Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

May 23, 2014

16th Region softball tournament: East, Ashland meet in 1st round

GRAYSON — East Carter softball coach Derek Calhoun figured the Lady Raiders would have to get past Ashland eventually to reach their goals.

After his team dropped two regular-season games to the Kittens by a total of three runs, Calhoun remarked, “We are going to go back and try to get to work, so that hopefully we can see them again.”

East Carter got its wish, but probably a bit earlier than it envisioned. And what could be the marquee matchup of the entire 16th Region Tournament will take place on the event’s first day.

Five-time defending region softball champion Ashland and East Carter were pitted against each other at Friday’s draw at East Carter. The Kittens (28-5) and Lady Raiders (28-5) face off in region quarterfinal action Monday at 8 p.m. at Russell.

“We’re excited about it,” Kittens coach Dave Miller said of the draw. “There’s no easy way to win a region, so let’s just go ahead and get it kicked off the way it needs to be kicked off, and it should be a really good matchup. Two really good pitchers will go head-to-head there, and hopefully we’ll be up for it.”

East Carter wasted no time hanging its head over the draw.

“That’s how it goes, and if you want to win this region, you’re gonna have to beat (Ashland) sometime,” Calhoun said.

In Ashland’s 1-0 win April 14 in Grayson, Kittens junior Megan Hensley and Lady Raiders eighth-grader Montana Fouts each threw two-hitters and combined for 24 strikeouts — 17 from Hensley.

Two and a half weeks later, Hensley again shut down East Carter and pitcher Morgan Jacobs, three-hitting the Lady Raiders in a 2-0 victory in Ashland.

“One run can be huge with either one of these pitchers,” Miller said.

That is Monday’s second game. Rowan County (20-18) meets host Russell (15-16) in the first game of the tournament at 6 p.m. Monday. The Lady Vikings took two one-run decisions from the Lady Devils, winning 4-3 on April 24 in Morehead and 6-5 on May 6 in Flatwoods.

Boyd County (22-12) and Greenup County (11-15) hook up at 8 p.m. Tuesday. The Lady Lions and Lady Musketeers were the only region teams to beat Ashland this season. Boyd County defeated Greenup County twice in the regular season, 12-2, on April 14 in Cannonsburg and 4-3 in nine innings on May 13 in Lloyd.

That latest game has both teams prepared for a taut tussle Tuesday.

“We know what’s coming at us,” Lady Lions coach Geoff Stewart said. “We’ve seen (Greenup County pitcher) Brooke (Johnson) for a few years. We know what she has. Very nice pitcher, so we’ll have to come out ready to play and definitely hit the ball.”

Added Lady Musketeers coach Eric Keeton: “We’re gonna have to show up and make sure that we put the ball in play and take care of our fielding miscues that we’ve had throughout the course of the year, but I think our girls will be ready to play for the region. They have some experience, but they understand Boyd County’s got a very good team.”

Tuesday’s 6 p.m. quarterfinal pits Fleming County (13-16) against West Carter (7-15). The Lady Panthers are the only team who weren’t in last season’s field, returning after a year’s hiatus.

Fleming County coach Nathan Ryver, for one, doesn’t mind seeing an Ashland-East Carter showdown in the first round. Being on the opposite side of the bracket is just fine with the Lady Panthers because the Kittens eliminated them from region play four straight years, from 2009 to 2012.

“Every year Ashland’s always in our bracket and they’re always the one to knock us out,” Ryver said. “They’re in the other bracket now, so we’re gonna like our chances either way. We think if we can play good defense and just hit the ball a little bit and not strike out, we’ve got a pretty good chance as anybody.”

The Lady Comets dealt Fleming County a 9-4 loss May 5 in Olive Hill.

Ashland has the prestige of winning the last five region crowns and returns plenty of experience from that run.

“Our regular-season schedule really lends itself to getting us prepared for these types of things,” Miller said. “That means a lot. We’re experienced. We’re seasoned. Most of our girls have been here at least two (seasons), some three, and I think that helps us immensely.”

As for coming off a 9-5 loss to Boyd County in the district final?

“My girls are refocused,” Miller said. “I’ll just say that.”

That said, the Kittens aren’t the only team who think they have a legitimate shot to represent the region in Owensboro.

“The (East Carter) girls are excited. It really doesn’t matter to them who they play,” Calhoun said. ”They know we’re gonna have to play our best softball here these next three ball games if we want to have a chance of winning this region.”

“They feel like they can play with anybody,” Stewart said of the Lady Lions. “Like I’ve told them all along, we’re as good as any team. You put all three phases of the game together, you can beat anybody, and that’s what we did against Ashland.

“As long as you go in with that type of attitude and you got a lot of confidence, we should be fine.”

ZACK KLEMME can be reached at zklemme@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2658.

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