Social media was buzzing Friday about the Ashland Kittens reaching the Girls State Tournament semifinals for the first time in the modern era.
The Kittens downed Sweet Sixteen newcomer Danville 64-55 in E.A. Diddle Arena to join the Final Four where they will play Butler tonight at 7:30 (EST).
Ashland is a five-time state champion but that was long before the modern era began with Title IX in 1974. The Kittens were in the semifinals in 1931.
Eighty-three years later, they’re here again.
Former Kitten players and proud fans were posting on Facebook and Twitter after the biggest win in coach Bill Bradley’s career.
Kim Marsh Simons, who starred for the Kittens in the mid 1990s, was singing their praises. She played on a 16th Region champion in 1995 when the tournament was in Frankfort. Simons graduated in 1996.
“You’re so nervous when you get there,” she said. “To get your composure and pull off a couple of wins is tremendous. I’m so proud of them.”
Simons, 35, recalled she played against Melissa Pinson at Fairview High School. She is the mother of Haley-Sue Foutch, who happened to score 19 points and collect 13 rebounds despite picking up four fouls in the first half.
Simons, who lives in Carlisle, has watched Ashland play and win the last three regional championship games.
“I’ve driven down to Morehead to watch them,” she said. “Last year when I watched them they were kind of small. But this year — Holy cow! — they are very intimidating. They didn’t have many little girls.”
Simons said she was proud “and a little jealous” of the Kittens’ success. “I wish we could have won a game (at the state tournament). Our teams were always one-and-done. To know there’s only four teams and you’re one of them has to be an awesome feeling.”
Ashland and Danville were tied 24-24 at the half and the Kittens were in serious foul trouble, including the four on Foutch.
Down in Orlando, Fla., a fan of Bill Bradley from his coaching days at Holy Family, was listening intently on the radio while at work. He was rooting as much for Bradley as he was the Kittens.
“He’s by far my favorite coach,” said Chris Frazier, who graduated from Holy Family in 1981. “He was my B-team coach. I actually kind of stunk. It was happenstance I was there.”
However, Bradley left enough of an impression that Frazier followed the Kittens’ win over Danville through the airwaves from the Kentucky High School Athletic Association network.
“The broadcasters were saying they should go to a spread (late in the game) but I said, ‘No, he’ll play for the win.’ And he did. I’m so excited for him.”
Frazier said he keeps up with Bradley on Facebook.
“The other things the broadcasters were saying was how cool and calm they were playing,” he said. “I was saying ‘That’s because Coach Bradley is cool and calm!’ They reflect him.”
Frazier said he’s looking forward to watching the game streamed live on the KHSAA network tonight. “I couldn’t watch it at work but I was listening to it. Way to go Bill! I love the guy.”
Bradley’s Facebook page was blowing up with posts from friends congratulating him on getting the Kittens to the semifinals.
Simons said if the Kittens pull out a win this morning, she may just have to visit Diddle Arena on Sunday.
“I could see myself taking a road trip to watch them play in the championship game,” she said.
Once a Kitten, always a Kitten.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2648.