After opening the season with a 2-1 victory, Ashland has had a hard time cracking the close game code.
Three of the Tomcats’ five losses have come by a single run, and that doesn’t include Wednesday night’s 6-2 loss to Boyd County, a game that was tied at 2 apiece heading into the ninth inning.
On Thursday night, however, the Tomcats were finally able to find the correct combination as Austin Kelley delivered a game-winning single in the bottom of the eighth inning to propel Ashland past East Carter, 2-1, at Alumni Field.
“To win a one-run game in extra innings, shoot fire, I’m very pleased,” Ashland coach Jeff Wilcox said. “It was about our time (to win a close game).”
Ashland (8-5) had threatened to score in each of its previous at-bats, but was unsuccessful, leaving the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth and stranding two more in the seventh.
After some encouragement from his coach, Kelley made sure the Tomcats did not waste another opportunity as he laced a single to right field to plate Aaron Elam, who singled earlier in the inning.
“I just gave him a few words of encouragement,” Wilcox said of his brief conversation with Kelley before the at-bat. “I told him, ‘You are a senior, let’s step up and finish this thing.’ What a great hit he had.”
East Carter (8-11) also had several chances to score a run in the final innings only to come up empty.
Two Raider runners were stranding in the seventh inning, and that was after Tyler Walker was cut down at third base trying to advance on a ball in the dirt. Just as the Tomcats did in sixth inning, East Carter left the bases juiced in the top of the eighth.
“Several base running errors cost us,” East Carter coach Jeremiah Shearer said. “In the seventh, we had a great chance to score a run and took a chance and got thrown out at third, and then got a hit right after that. It could have gone either way, they just broke through before we did.”
It was tough to break through for either side as both teams got excellent pitching performances from both their starters and subsequent relievers.
Evan Cox went seven strong innings for the Tomcats before turning the ball over to Cam Fritz, who closed things out.
Cox struck out eight on the night, but none was bigger than his last as he fanned Blake Dunn to end the East Carter threat in the top of the seventh.
“That is what great pitchers do,” Wilcox said. “They don’t let what is going on around them affect them, they just pitch and take care of things.”
East Carter starter Chandler Adams nearly matched Cox pitch per pitch as he struck out seven in his 6 2/3 innings of work.
“Chandler really battled, he got out of some really tough spots,” Shearer said. “He saw 32 batters and threw 24 or 25 first-pitch strikes. He did a good job of working ahead and throwing his off-speed pitches for strikes.”
The Tomcats’ only run off of Adams came in the third inning, when Cox’s single to right field plated Matt Vincent, who doubled to lead off the frame.
East Carter’s only run also came after a leadoff double. Andrew Sharp scored on a perfectly executed suicide squeeze by Dunn in the fifth inning.
E. CARTER 000 010 00 — 1 7 0
ASHLAND 001 000 01 — 2 8 3
Adams, Floyd (7) and Wells. Cox, Fritz (8) and Fritz, Mullins (8). W – Fritz. L – Floyd. 2B: Vincent (A), Sharp (EC)