Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

April 1, 2014

61st District baseball and softball previews: Rowan aiming high again

ASHLAND — A couple of clutch plays kept Rowan County from a 16th Region Tournament championship game appearance last May.

Then both seniors, Ashland's Logan Salow cut down what would have been a go-ahead run from center field and Cade O'Bryan finished off the Vikings with a sixth-inning solo home run blast. The Tomcats won 1-0 en route to their second consecutive region crown.

Rowan County coach Jason Davis hopes that being so close to a taste of the title has his squad salivating for another shot.

Davis is confident that it could play out that way, but tackling the 61st District is the first order of business. The Vikings were runners-up to Bath County a year ago. The Wildcats then graduated 10 seniors.

"We want to continue with the way we're going right now, and follow the plan we have in place," said Davis, who in his fourth year at the helm. "We want to win that district first, and then go from there … the region is wide open this year."

Rowan County fired off 17 wins in its last 23 games last season.

Plenty of key cogs return to steer the Vikings' ship. It starts with pitching.

Sophomore Cam Planck has his fastball topping out at 87 miles per hour. Senior Tyler Thacker returns after sitting out all of last season with an ACL injury. He'll pitch and play shortstop. Justin Graham, also a senior, offers Rowan County a left-handed option on the mound. He'll likely bat third most of the season.

Davis said Thacker may have been "the missing piece to the puzzle" in 2013. As a sophomore, he was a solid pitcher and provided power from the plate.

"On the mound, he's a bulldog," Davis said. "The good stuff is not there yet, but he'll get on the mound and absolutely compete."

Planck hadn't given up a hit in all eight innings he'd pitched heading into Monday night's matchup with West Carter.

Davis expects Graham to be among the team leaders in RBIs.

Joining Davis in the dugout is Keith Prater, who guided Lewis County to two of its best seasons in program history over the last two years. Prater and Davis were voted All-Area Co-Coaches of the Year by area coaches last season.

"We finish each other's sentences when we're coaching," Davis said. "We're cut from the same tree … some might say, 'Why would you want to hire another head coach as an assistant?' It was a no-brainer for me."

Fleming County struggled to an 11-21 finish last season, but the Panthers return a whopping eight starters. Coach Blake Price said if they can "shore up some defensive inefficiencies from last year, and get adequate pitching, we should be very competitive."

Brett Fawns, a four-year starter, leads the Panthers in most aspects. He is their top pitcher and hitter.

"At the plate, he's a terror," Davis said of Fawns. "You have to be careful pitching to him."

Bath County will lean on seniors Broderick Moore and Jordan Highley.

Menifee County has a new coach, Oscar Brewer. The Wildcats went 0-21 and scored just 35 runs last year.

SOFTBALL

Twentieth-year Rowan County softball coach Larry Slone said his Lady Vikings will have faced their toughest schedule they've ever seen under his direction by the time the middle of May rolls around.

Among those included in the non-region bunch of opponents are Montgomery County (twice), South Laurel (twice), Newport Central Catholic and George Rogers Clark.

So far, they're 6-2, but Slone isn't running victory laps around the bases just yet.

"We're not young, so we should have a good understanding of what we need to do," Slone said. "But we're still learning … defense was our real downfall last year. That's been better, but it needs to get better and better."

Slone expects the 61st District, which went the way of Rowan County last season, to be competitive.

Seniors Morgan Mitchell is the Lady Vikings' No. 1 pitcher for the third year in a row.

"She's not overpowering, but she's got good control," Slone said.

Fellow seniors Alli Banks and Baileigh Garvin will patrol the right side of the infield.

Slone will also look to juniors Becca Duff, Lindsey Wilson and Courtnae Bolander to regularly contribute.

Menifee County also has one the region's prized pitchers in Erika Brewer. The senior limited Rowan County to just one run in the district title game in 2013. The Lady Vikings did manage to beat the Lady Cats 7-2 in the early going this season.

Fleming County and Bath County both had losing records last season, but neither will be taken lightly by most opponents.

Lady Panthers coach Nathan Ryver's group contains just two seniors and one junior, but they do bring back a good deal of varsity experience.

AARON SNYDER can be reached at asnyder@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2664.

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