It wasn’t the prettiest of wins, but Ashland coach Bill Bradley will take it.
Ashland defeated Rowan County, 41-23, in the opening round of the 16th Region Tournament on Saturday at Ellis T. Johnson Arena.
The Kittens’ 41 points accounted for their second-lowest point total this season. But as Ashland’s offense struggled, its defense kept them ahead.
“Last year (defense) won us the championship,” Bradley said. “Nobody shoots well here in every game. The constant thing we have is our defense.”
Along with forcing 19 Rowan County turnovers, the Kittens’ aggressive defense gave the Lady Vikings fits — they shot just 19.4 percent from the field.
Rowan County coach Jen Williams said her team really struggled to get into its offense. She credited that to the defense of Ashland point guard Alexis Robinson.
“They are a very good defensive team,” Williams said. “When you have a long 5-foot-11 point guard defending your 5-5 point guard ... players are open, it’s just hard to get them the basketball.”
Though intense on defense, the Kittens couldn’t find a groove on the offensive end.
Ashland shot just 36.4 percent from the floor against Rowan County’s 3-2 zone. The Kittens also shot just 3 of 18 from 3-point range.
Bradley said his team will probably see zone the rest of the tournament after Saturday night’s game.
“We’ve got to hit a few outside shots or they are just going to keep packing it in,” Bradley said. “Monday they are probably going to play a 2-3 — we haven’t seen a man-to-man in almost eight games. We’ve got to hit some outside shots.”
Ashland was led by Sydney Cullop, who scored a game-high 14 points. She was the only Kitten in double figures.
Bradley credits Cullop’s good offensive game to her big-game experience.
“She’s played long enough now to be able to find her seams,” Bradley said. “She wasn’t nervous and she was going into those seams hard. We found her and she finished inside.”
The game marked the first for both the Lady Vikings and the Kittens in nine days — Ashland won the 64th District championship on Feb. 21.
Cullop didn’t exactly enjoy the wait.
“Having that whole time off is just throwing everyone off,” Cullop said. “Getting that first win and getting back to playing on the floor feels really good.”
The biggest basket for Cullop came in the third period. With the clock winding down, the senior drove the lane and sank a floater as the buzzer went off.
The shot started a 7-1 Ashland run, and it allowed the Kittens to start putting distance between them and Rowan County.
“I was pretty confident it was going in,” Cullop said. “But when it went in, I was pretty happy.”
Kaylyn Gambill had nine points on three 3-pointers for Ashland. Haley Sue Foutch finished with six points on 3-of-3 shooting.
Robinson finished with just four points, but contributed eight rebounds and five assists.
Bradley said it was Robinson who led the charge in the fourth to give the Kittens a little breathing room.
“Alexis got a little relaxed and hit some jumpers there,” Bradley said. “Her passing got sharper and that really opened things up for us.
“As she goes, we go. If she’s relaxed and playing well, we’re playing well.”
Rowan County (15-14) made just six total shots from the field. The only player to crack double figures in scoring was Faith Conn, who finished with a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds.
“She’s the heart and soul of our team,” Williams said. “We got down by 17 and she was still diving to the ground for loose balls. She was getting in the huddle trying to motivate the team — she’s not only a great player, she’s a great kid.”
Ashland (23-6) will play Lewis County in the semifinals on Monday with tipoff scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Two wins separate Ashland from a second consecutive region championship and Cullop said it’s going to be a fight the rest of the way.
“We have seven seniors and we’ve said it’s all or nothing at this point,” Cullop said.
‰Tickets for Monday’s semifinal game will be on sale for the general public on Monday from 1 to 3 p.m. at Ashland Blazer High School.