Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

April 5, 2012

Four and counting?

Russell looks for fifth-straight district title

ASHLAND — Those who follow 63rd District softball can agree on at least one thing: Russell coach Ron Osborn knows how to win.

Going into his seventh season as head coach of the Lady Devils, Osborn has won the district five times, including four straight entering this season.

And while Osborn has history on his side, he knows that if the Lady Devils are going to win a fifth consecutive district title, it’s going to take a lot of hard work.

“We can’t make any mistakes if we want to win the district, that’s for sure,” Osborn said. “There are no weak teams in the district this year. It’s going to take effort because it seems like when everyone plays us they bring their best games.”

One of the top reasons that Russell is capable of a repeat is the return of ace pitcher, senior Molly Baldridge. A healthy Molly Baldridge, to be more exact.

After having rotator cuff surgery before last season, Baldridge seemed to have not fully recovered during last season, said Osborn.

Although she pitched well last season — Baldridge threw a perfect game against Raceland — Osborn said he sees more zip returning to her pitches.

“We nurtured her all last season,” Osborn said. “Last year she would grow tired a little bit, but this year it seems like she has her zip back. She’s pretty much 100 percent.”

Along with Baldridge, Osborn said Sydney Watkins and Hope Parsley are two players who will lead the Lady Devils on the offensive end.

With Russell winning the district the past four years, Raceland coach Shawn Johnson knows that for that reason alone, Russell is the team to beat in a wide open region.

“Whoever won it last is always the team to beat,” said Johnson, the all-time winningest coach in Raceland boys basketball history. He stepped aside from that job in 2007. “Our district is about as close as you’re going to get in this area. Nobody is a shoo-in to win.”

In his first year as head softball coach, Johnson has a young team and a young No. 1 pitcher in freshman Kelsey Diller.

“Kelsey is going to throw a lot of innings,” Johnson said. ”She’s not the biggest girl but she’s up to the challenge and very capable of coming up big for us.”

Along with Diller, Johnson expects big things from the Lady Rams’ three seniors, catcher Nikki Carman, first baseman Taylor Anderson and outfielder Kayla Gillum.

Throw in shortstop and the school’s leader in home runs in a single season, Breanna Grubb, and third baseman Chloe Adkins, and one can see why Johnson said his team has a lot of individual talent.

Johnson said that piecing that talent together is where problems may surface, especially early in the year.

“It’s been a roller coaster these first few games,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of individual pieces and we hope we can put those pieces in the right place and put them together. But these kids are good kids, and they are good workers.”

Greenup County is also looking to push its way into the district race, with four-year coach Eric Keeton pointing to a growing team, and growing team chemistry as a reason for the Lady Musketeers’ optimism.

“I saw a lot of determination in the offseason with the girls constantly wanting a bat in their hands,” Keeton said. “And their is a good camaraderie with our team. This team has a good vibe to it coaching-wise because everybody gets along and is willing to help each other and pick each other up.”

Keeton will be looking to his seniors to carry the Lady Musketeers this season. Catcher Meriah Euton is the team’s top returning hitter, while Lisa Short is expected to be strong on the mound.

For his team to be successful, Keeton knows that his seniors will need to be behind him 100 percent.

“Every year you look to your seniors and this senior group is amazing,” Keeton said. “They carry the team. This group was freshmen when I took over, and they understand what I want from this team. I can’t brag enough about them.”

 But the Lady Musketeers coach shares the sentiment of the every other coach: the 63rd district is wide open.

“I think the way Raceland plays and the improvement of Lewis County, and of course Russell returning their core group it’s going to be a dog fight,” Keeton said. “We just have to make sure whoever we play in district that we stay focued and do what we do, play the game and make sure we hit and field.”

Lewis County is coming off a 6-16 season and will feature a new coach as Kasey Nolen takes over for the Lady Lions.

Featuring no seniors, the Lady Lions will look to use their youth to their advantage and continue to grow as the season goes on.

The Lady Lions will be looking for a big season from returning juniors Jaden Carver, Tori Liles and Ashley Witten while the younger Lady Lions get more varsity experience.

Keeton knows that as long as Russell is in the distirct, the Lady Devils will have to be the favorites until someone knocks them off.

“Russell is the one we’re going to gun for,” Keeton said. “Until someone knocks them off that pedestal, they have to be the favorite.”

KYLE HOBSTETTER can be reached at khobstetter@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2658.

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