No one could catch these 'Cats.
Not in the 16th Region Tournament, anyway.
Logan Salow was as stingy as a kid clinging to his favorite toy on Thursday, and now he gets to share a regional championship with his teammates.
Ashland beat Boyd County, 3-2, behind Salow's complete game performance at Bath County Sports Complex to achieve its first regional title since 2004.
“Yeah, it’s been a long time,” said an elated Jeff Wilcox, Ashland's coach.
The Tomcats avenged last spring’s regional championship loss to Boyd County. The schools had never met in the title game in back-to-back seasons before this year.
Salow followed up a 46-pitch, two-inning relief appearance in Ashland's 4-3 semifinal win over Russell with a 125-pitch, seven-inning outing on Thursday.
“What a gutty performance,” said Wilcox.
Even if Wilcox felt an urge to pull his starter after such a taxing two nights, the junior left-hander wasn’t about to budge.
“I wasn’t coming out of that game. That was my game,” he said firmly.
Salow, named the Tournament Most Valuable Player, struck out 13 batters and scattered five hits.
“That's the reason he's player of the year,” said Boyd County coach Brandon Ramsey, referring to The Independent’s All-Area Team. “We thought we had him on the ropes early. But he battled out of jams.”
Sam Hunter, who threw a no-hitter against East Carter on Monday, helped lead the offense with a two-hit night. Hunter singled sharply up the middle in the first inning off Boyd County senior starter Trey Salisbury, who was pitching on nine days rest.
Cade O'Bryan promptly followed with an RBI double to right center field to give Ashland a 1-0 lead. O'Bryan came up with a second two-bagger in the fifth.
“There are really no words to describe Cade,” Salow said with a laugh. “He's a playmaker.”
Corey Sublett and Matt Blakeley tag-teamed to put Boyd County on the board. Sublett doubled and Blakeley grounded an RBI single to right field in the second inning, making it 1-1.
After Ashland (27-8) plated a couple of more runs in the third — a Joe Stewart bloop double dropped in and scooted past a diving Blakeley to produce two runs — Salisbury and Salow hit their respective strides.
Each pitcher worked extremely quickly and effectively into the later innings.
Salow struck out the side in the fourth. Salisbury struck out the side in the sixth — the Eastern Kentucky signee tallied 11 strikeouts and gave up eight total hits.
With the bat, Salisbury led off the bottom of the sixth with a single to center in hopes of stirring up a rally.
It almost worked out exquisitely for the Lions, as Billy McCoy cranked a run-scoring double to left center to trim the Tomcats’ advantage to 3-2.
Having already surpassed 100 pitches, Salow knew he had to dig a little deeper to gather the gumption needed to finish what he started.
“I was taking a lot of velocity off my fastball, so I knew I had to be more pinpoint with my location,” said the left-hander. “I got a little amped up, and the adrenaline started going. Pain wasn't an issue.”
Salow retired the final five Lions he faced, including a strikeout of Robbie Shivel to initiate the celebratory pile-up of Tomcats along the first base line as fireworks blasted above the field.
Hunter, who played past an injured finger on his right hand sustained on a dive back to first base, almost cried too early. And not because of pain.
“I felt the tears coming after we got two outs (in the seventh),” said the senior center fielder. “It was kind of early, and they had a good hitter up.”
Hunter smiled at the thought of taking the field at Whitaker Bank Park in Lexington on Tuesday in the State Tournament.
“Coach Wilcox has always talked about the 2004 team,” said Hunter, a fifth-year varsity starter. “It's going to be sweet.”
Ashland faces 13th Region winner South Laurel in the first round.
Boyd County (20-21) ended its sometimes trying season with six wins in its final eight games. The bulk of the Lions are freshmen.
“We came a long way, but we’ve still got a long way to go,” Ramsey said.
The Lions beat Ashland one out of four times this season, as they struggled with the left-handed pitching of Salow and Hunter.
On Thursday, Boyd County went down looking at strike three on six occasions.
“They’ve done that every game against Ashland,” Ramsey said. “As you grow up, you don’t see a lot of good left-handed pitching. That’s something we’ve got to work on.”
Cameron Fritz, Ashland's sophomore catcher, was the target of praise from his coach for the way he’s handled the 'Cats' southpaw pair behind the plate.
“They've got confidence to throw whatever to him,” Wilcox said. “What a superb job.”
Jared Slone went 3-for-3 to cap off a 5-for-8 effort in the sophomore's first regional tournament.
Salow declared his love for the whole team afterward, adding that they “played like there was no tomorrow.”
For the Tomcats, now there is one.
Harold Chapman (Rowan County), Ben Jordan (West Carter), Connor Robinson (East Carter), Ryan Monroe (Fleming County), Levi Clark (Lewis County), Joel Mullen (Russell), Cade O'Bryan (Ashland), Jacob Barnwell (Boyd County), Cory Christy (Lewis County), Bryant Cathey (Russell), Sam Hunter (Ashland), Billy McCoy (Boyd County), Joe Stewart (Ashland), Robbie Shivel (Boyd County).
MVP: Logan Salow (Ashland)
Ashland 3, Boyd County 2
Ashland ab r h bi
Salow p 3 0 0 0
Hunter cf 4 2 2 0
O'Bryan rf 3 0 2 1
Elam 1b 3 0 0 0
Stewart ss 3 0 1 2
Fritz c 3 0 0 0
Cox 3b 3 0 0 0
Yongue lf 3 0 0 0
Slone 2b 3 1 3 0
Totals 28 3 8 3
Boyd County ab r h bi
Shivel cf 4 0 0 0
Grimm lf 2 0 0 0
Salisbury p 1 1 1 0
Barnwell c 3 0 0 0
McCoy 3b 3 0 2 1
Sublett dh 3 1 1 0
Bryan ss 0 0 0 0
Blakeley rf 3 0 1 1
Crum 1b 2 0 0 0
C Smith ph 1 0 0 0
J Smith 2b 2 0 0 0
Totals 24 2 5 2
LOB—Ashland 7, Boyd County 5. 2B—O'Bryan 2 (A), Sublett (B), Slone (A), Stewart (A), McCoy (B).
Ashland 102 000 0 — 3 8 0
Boyd Co. 010 001 0 — 2 5 0
Ashland IP H R ER BB SO
Salow W 7 5 2 2 4 13
Boyd Co. IP H R ER BB SO
Salisbury L 7 8 3 3 2 10