Ashland softball players Megan Hensley and McKenzie Vanover propelled the Kittens not only to a fifth consecutive State Tournament appearance this season, but several high rankings in the KHSAA state record book.
Hensley’s outstanding pitching and Vanover’s booming bat spearheaded the Kittens’ run to a fifth straight 16th Region title. Ashland went on to finish 2-2 in state competition.
“When the dust settles and you see what these two were able to do, it’s really unbelievable,” Kittens coach Dave Miller said.
Miller said the duo simply put the team on their backs after outfielder/leadoff hitter Sydney Whitt went down with a season-ending injury.
“Mac took care of the offense, and Megan took care of shutting other people down,” Miller said of the 16th Region Tournament Co-MVPs. “They did a phenomenal job.”
Hensley, the All-Area Pitcher of the Year, tossed three consecutive no-hitters during her sophomore season to tie for second on the KHSAA all-time list, last updated just prior to the 2013 season. The record is four.
Also, the second team All-State selection’s 403 strikeouts on the season made her only the seventh different pitcher to top the 400 mark.
“Amazing,” Miller said. “I think we figured she averaged 12 to 13 strikeouts per game. That takes a lot of pressure off the defense, especially with a young team like we had this year. I had high expectations for Megan coming into the season, and she exceeded them. Our run production wasn’t as high as in the past, but our philosophy was that we only needed one more run than the other team.”
Hensley rang up a 2013 State Tournament-high 52 strikeouts in the Kittens’ four games while posting a 0.75 earned run average at Owensboro’s Jack C. Fisher Park.
Offensively, Vanover slammed 15 home runs as a junior. According to the record book, only three Kentucky high school fastpitch players launched more in season. Former Miss Softball award winner Amber Riddle of Rowan County is No. 1 with 19 (2008).
“It’s not an accident,” Miller said of Vanover’s success. “This kid has worked her entire career. I’m very happy for her.”
Vanover homered in four straight games, tying for second on the state list, and joined a large group of players to clear the outfield fence on two consecutive at bats. That record is three by six players.
Her eight RBIs in a game against Ironton is good for third all time, while Vanover’s 56 runs batted in for the season ranks 14th overall.
Some of Vanover’s best production came at crunch time during the postseason. She hit a three-run homer in the district final at Boyd County, then put on a power show at the region tournament including two blasts against Russell in the championship game.
“McKenzie came through time after time in high-pressure situations,” Miller said of the All-Area Co-Player of the Year. “I’m disappointed that the state recognition has not come for her yet. She’s very unsung I think.”
As a team, Ashland swatted 35 home runs, good for third in the state record book behind Christian County’s 2011 and ‘10 teams that hit 49 and 36, respectively. Whitt contributed five homers, Hensley and Sydney Cullop four apiece, Katie Caron and Hayley Kilburn three each, and Megan Griffith one for the Kittens.
Ashland’s five longballs in a regular season game against West Carter tied for the second spot in the record book. The Kittens had six doubles vs. Greenup County, which ties for fourth.
“Overall, what do you say about how everybody stepped up?” asked Miller, reflecting on how the Kittens overcame several key graduation losses. “It was an absolute pleasure to coach this team this year.”
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.