Johnson Central softball coach Jason Hurt’s already high opinion of Ashland junior Megan Hensley rose to another level Thursday night.
Just like her rise ball.
Whether in the circle or ar the plate, Hensley continues to give opponents fits. On this occasion, the University of Louisville commit smacked a two-run homer in the first inning and mowed through the visitors’ lineup for a two-hitter in the Kittens’ 9-1 romp.
Hurt said Johnson Central hasn’t been able to rev up its pitching machine in practice lately as much as he would like. The Lady Eagles saw the real thing in Hensley, who struck out 14 batters to go to 9-0 on the season.
She’s averaging just under two K’s per inning.
“What can you say? Hensley’s an awesome pitcher,” Hurt said. “She has that rise ball. You know it’s coming, but it’s not easy putting the ball in play or knowing when to lay off. She’s also a great hitter. She can bunt it, or hit it over the fence. We expect her to hit it hard. We just try to make a play on the ball.”
Hensley, who came in with a .559 batting average, also singled and finished with two runs and three RBIs against one of the 15th Region’s top teams.
As well as Hensley played Thursday, 23rd-ranked Ashland again showed the kind of production up and down the lineup that excites coach Dave Miller.
The Kittens pounded out 14 hits, including a monster home run from sophomore Hayley Kilburn and freshman Sidney Campbell’s first three-hit game at the varsity level.
“If you can hit one-through-nine, you’re going to have a lot of success in this game,” Miller said. “We’ve been getting that. You can see the improvement a lot of these girls have made in a year’s time.”
Katie Baldock, Megan Griffith and Carly Conley each supplied two hits for the Kittens (11-1), who have not lost since splitting two games on their opening day.
“They all hit it, top to bottom,” Hurt said. “You can’t look at anybody and say this is a gimme out, like you can against some teams.”
Conley, a sophomore in her first year as a starter, and Campbell went a combined 5-for-6 in the Nos. 8 and 9 spots.
“The bottom of the order has been there for us pretty consistently this year,” Miller said.
Campbell singled all three trips, including a well-placed bunt down the third base line when she misread a Miller sign.
“I thought he called bunt, but I missed the call,” said the Kittens’ catcher. “I’m glad it worked out. It definitely was not my speed.”
Campbell’s performance pushed her season average above .300.
“I’ve been working a lot on my hitting,” said Campbell, who has struck out only three times this spring. “It feels good to help the team.”
Griffith had RBI singles in the third and fourth innings. Ashland broke the game open with six runs in the fourth, highlighted by Kilburn’s three-run blast that cleared the scoreboard in left-center.
“It surprised me,” Kilburn said of her first homer this season after hitting three as a freshman. “I have not been hitting all season, just little, dinky hits. Hopefully this was a good sign.”
Kilburn’s shot made it 9-0 and chased Johnson Central starter Casandra Hall.
“Hayley absolutely killed it,” Miller said. “That’s impressive. I could tell the other day in practice she was more aggressive swinging the bat.”
Meanwhile, Hensley held Johnson Central hitless until Jayla Spurlock’s sharp single up the middle to open the fifth inning.
The Lady Eagles (7-5) got on the scoreboard in the sixth. Brooke Williams struck out to lead off the inning, but reached first when the ball went to the backstop. She moved around to third on a groundout and passed ball, then scored on an error.
Lauren Delong doubled later in the inning for Johnson Central’s other hit before Hensley fanned the next batter for the third out.
Ashland crosses the Ohio River this weekend for the Valley of Thunder tournament at Symmes Valley. The Kittens play Upper Arlington (Columbus) tonight, followed by matchups against Gahanna Lincoln and Portsmouth West on Saturday.
J. CENTRAL 000 001 0 — 1 2 0
ASHLAND 201 600 x — 9 14 2
Hall, Pierce (4) and Withers; Hensley and Campbell. W—Hensley. L—Hall. 2B—Delong (JC). HR—Hensley (A), Kilburn (A).
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.