Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

April 12, 2014

East, Ashland set benchmark

Lady Raiders, Kittens garner 3 selections apiece; Robinson POY, Easterling COY

ASHLAND — East Carter broke a school record with 31 wins and camped out in the state’s Top 10.

Ashland crashed the state Final Four for the program’s first time in the modern era of Kentucky high school girls basketball.

Certainly, it was a season to remember for the 16th Region.

East Carter coach Hager Easterling, who reached the 400-win milestone during the region tournament, was selected All-Area Coach of the Year in voting by his peers.

“I feel very honored,” Easterling said. “It means you had a lot of good players.”

It’s also meaningful to Easterling because of his respect for his fellow coaches.

“I will put the coaches in this region up against any in the state,” he said. “They really prepare their teams. They get out and scout, and they work their butts off.”

For the second consecutive year, Player of the Year honors went to Ashland’s exceptional Alexis Robinson.

“I’m really proud of it,” Robinson said. “Our region has a lot of good players. I appreciate people voting for me.”

The junior point guard spearheaded the Kittens’ run to a third consecutive 16th Region championship, followed by State Tournament wins over Henderson County and Danville in Bowling Green.

“To get that far, we had to have teamwork,” Robinson said. “The (regular) season was good, but not great. Finally at the end we picked it up. We worked together great.”

Robinson called reaching the Final Four the most satisfying part of the season, especially after first-round State Tournament exits the previous two years.

“It was really exciting,” she said. “If not for Shelby (Gransbery) being injured, I think we could have gone farther. I do whatever I can to help the team out.”

In Robinson’s case, that’s a long list. The Colorado commit’s ballhandling, passing, defense, rebounding and ability to score inside or out make her a unique force.

“She’s the best player (in the region),” Easterling said. “Alexis impacts a game in so many different ways. A lot of people just remember her offense. I don’t think she gets credit a lot of times for how good she is defensively. She’s 5-10 and long, probably the best shot blocker as a point guard that I’ve seen.”

Robinson posted a stat line of 25 points, seven rebounds, two steals and two assists as Ashland knocked off eighth-ranked East Carter in the region final. She sank key free throws to ice it, then walked to midcourt to accept the tournament’s MVP award for the third year in a row.

“A lot of times she goes up, gets a rebound and starts the fast break,” Easterling said. ”It’s hard to keep her out of the lane, and off the foul line. She’s just a terrific, terrific player.”

Ashland coach Bill Bradley said Robinson’s basketball skills are without question. He saw her develop another valuable asset during the Kittens’ stretch run.

“Her vocal leadership the last month of the season was terrific,” Bradley said. “In practice, Alexis was dictating a little bit more. She was being a little more assertive with me in huddles and timeouts, making suggestions on defenses and those kind of things.”

Haley-Sue Foutch, the Kittens’ other co-captain, noticed that and stepped up as well, according to Ashland’s coach.

“It made a huge difference down the stretch,” Bradley said.

Ashland and East Carter lead the All-Area team with three selections apiece.

Joining Robinson from the Kittens were juniors Foutch and Gransbery, both high-impact players in Bowling Green.

Foutch was named to the Sweet Sixteen All-Tournament Team after averaging 14 points, 8.7 rebounds, two steals and 1.7 blocked shots in Ashland’s three games. She scored 16 points on 7-for-11 shooting in the semifinal loss to eventual champion Louisville Butler after posting 19 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks against Danville despite early foul trouble.

“We had a great season,” Foutch said. “At tournament time we got more comfortable and trusted each other. Obviously we wanted to get farther, but we made history. You have to be very proud of that.”

Gransbery, a 5-11 forward, had a huge game in the tournament opener against Henderson County, attacking the basket for 24 points to lead the underdog Kittens.

“Shelby took control,” Foutch said. “We couldn’t have won the game without her playing like that. She got aggressive with the ball.”

East Carter, represented on the All-Area team by senior Bryana Greenhill, junior Megan Stickler and freshman Kristen Mayo, put together a dynamite season reflected in its 31-3 record.

Beyond the success on the court, Easterling listed three things that made the team special.

“The way they played the game, the way they were teammates to each other, and the way they represented the school,” he said. “We did a lot of traveling this season. I heard a lot of compliments from people talking about how our girls were well-mannered.”  

The Lady Raiders entered the season with a realistic goal of winning the state title. They beat Butler in a state AAU tournament last summer and outplayed talented Huntington St. Joe by 21 points in a Panorama just after Thanksgiving. St. Joe went on to win its fifth consecutive Class A title in West Virginia.

East Carter, which loses just one starter, defeated Ashland twice during the season before coming up short 45-41 in the region final.

Afterwards, Easterling had a message for his players.      

“What I told the girls was, ‘Wow! What a great year you had. I know you are disappointed, but that’s just the nature of sports. As time passes, you will look back and realize the year that you had,’” he said.

Greenhill, the only senior in the lineup, called playing for Easterling a tremendous experience.

“When you look at people that make a difference in your life, I think of him,” she said. “He sets the example for us. He puts God first and we fall behind that.”

Greenhill missed 48 games as a freshman and sophomore due to injuries and a staph infection in her knee, but persevered and played a key role in the team’s success.

“She’s one of, if not the best defensive player I ever coached,” said Easterling, whose career spans 34 years. Greenhill had 96 steals this season while averagng 9.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists.

Mayo and Stickler each put in 11.4 points per game in the Lady Raiders’ balanced attack. Stickler also grabbed 5.4 rebounds per contest, while Mayo aveaged three assists and three steals.  

The Lady Raiders will be loaded with returners next season and Easterling can hardly wait.

“I don’t think we need to lower our expectations,” he said. “Before this year, our expectation was to win the State Tournament. I knew how good we could be and I knew what the state was like.” 

Boyd County, Russell and Lewis County each had two players chosen.

Boyd County senior Taylor Wheeler, the KABC Player of the Year in the 16th Region, broke the school’s scoring record late in the season and finished with 1,795 points. She’s set to play in the Ohio-Kentucky All-Star Game today.

“She’s a kid who brought it every day to practice,” Lady Lions coach Pete Fraley said. “Kids like her you don’t replace. The thing we are probably going to miss the most is just the physical toughness she brought to the floor.”

Logan Fraley will be back to lead Boyd County after averaging 15.5 points and connecting on 94 three-pointers as a junior.

Standout center Savannah Anderson and guard Emily Frye — the Eastern Kentucky Conference Player of the Year — paved the way for 63rd District champ Lewis County, while Russell placed Maggie Jachimczuk (11 ppg, 8 rpg) and Shelby Huddleston (9 ppg) from a regional semifinalist. Huddleston led the Lady Devils in assists, steals and field goal percentage.

Three other inside players put up big numbers for their teams: Bath County sophomore Sarah Price (19.4 points and 11.9 rebounds); Fleming County junior Martina Lytle (18.4 points and 8.9 rebounds) and Menifee County’s Ashton Woodard (18 points and 10.3 rebounds).

Other selections included Rowan County’s Faith Conn, Greenup County’s Sydney Webb, Raceland’s Krystal Keeton and Johnson Central’s Lauren Delong.  

ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at rstanley@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2671.

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