Piling up victories against a particularly formidable rival is one of the impressive features of coach Dave Miller’s success story with Ashland softball.
On Tuesday night, the Kittens extended a domination against Boyd County that dates back to 2007.
After three scoreless innings, Boyd County pushed across a run in the top of the fourth in its bid to reverse the trend early in a new season.
Ashland, however, responded to a challenge from Miller with six runs in the bottom of the inning and rolled to an 11-1 mercy rule win.
“They rose up,” Miller said of the Kittens, currently ranked 24th in the state coaches’ poll. “We were in a battle early and I’m extremely pleased with how the girls answered the call.”
Ashland has won 23 of the last 25 games in the series — including three regional finals — despite Boyd County being a consistent 20-game winner.
“The first four innings, things were going well,” Boyd County coach Geoff Stewart said. “(Pitcher) Lora Thompson was hitting her spots. Then it all fell apart. We had a couple of errors, got behind in the count and had some mental breakdowns. I never expected a mercy though.”
“Teams like Ashland are going to do what good teams do,” he continued. “They take advantage of another at bat. We just have to be mentally focused to beat the good teams.”
Ashland continues to hold the pitching edge in the matchup. Junior Megan Hensley, coming off a second team All-State sophomore season, continued her strong 2014 start by striking out eight batters and limiting the Lady Lions to three singles over six innings.
“Hensley is Hensley,” Stewart said. “She’s pretty darn good. She kept us off balance. At times we chased pitches. On the other side of the coin, we let some good pitches go by for called third strikes.”
Hensley (6-0) showed her toughness by shaking off a hard-hit comebacker that caromed off her leg and produced Boyd County’s run. She didn’t even acknowledge being struck by the ball.
“Megan was mad because she didn’t catch it,” Miller said. “That’s the competitor in her. I guarantee she was not thinking another thing about that leg.”
Ashland’s cleanup hitter also went 3-for-3 with a walk as part of the team’s big offensive output. Every starter contributed at least one hit as the Kittens racked up 13 overall.
“I absolutely love that,” Miller said of the hitting balance. “A team’s one-through-nine, not one-through four.”
Shortstop Megan Griffith doubled home the tying run in the fourth. Carly Conley and Sidney Campbell also went the opposite way with RBI singles in the Kittens’ big inning, and Katie Baldock did likewise by smacking a two-run double to make it 6-1.
“We exploded,” Griffith said of the outburst. “It just takes one (hit) to start us. Everybody in the lineup came through.”
Griffith, a junior, is off to a strong start at the plate after playing with a quad injury most of last season. She entered Tuesday with a .444 average and built on that by going 2-for-4 and scoring two runs.
“I feel good and the confidence is back,” Griffith said. “It’s a whole different outlook.”
Boyd County, coming off a week of competition at Myrtle Beach, took a 1-0 lead when Destiny Goins’ shot off Hensley’s leg rolled through shortstop allowing Kenzi Martin to score from second. Miller was miffed that the Kittens failed to quickly track the ball down to prevent the run from scoring. Shortly after, Ashland dropped the ball at second base on a stolen base tag after Campbell’s strong throw from behind the plate easily beat the runner.
“Coach told us we were playing tight and needed to loosen up and play our game,” Griffith said. “After that, it all started to change for us.”
Ashland (7-1) has won six in a row. The Kittens, playing their fourth game in as many days, have a little break before hosting a four-team event Saturday. The Kittens are scheduled to meet Greenup County at noon, then take on Lincoln County (W.Va.) at 4 p.m. Lawrence County faces Greenup County in the 10 a.m. opener and will also play Lincoln County at 2 p.m.
Boyd County (5-7) visits Wayne on Thursday to take on the defending West Virginia Class AA state champs.
“I don’t like getting beat like that against Ashland, but we will be OK,” Stewart said.
Jordan Meade launched a two-run double in the sixth to close out the Kittens’ scoring.
BOYD CO. 000 100 — 1 3 3
ASHLAND 000 632 — 11 13 1
Thompson, Irvine (5) and Goins; Hensley and Campbell. W—Hensley. L—Goins. 2B—Griffith (A), Meade (A).
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2671.