Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

June 20, 2014

MARK MAYNARD: Ashland was tough to beat — even for Gullett

ASHLAND — Don Gullett came up during a time that many consider a golden era for sports in northeastern Kentucky.

He was one of many good athletes who emerged from the 1960s, including many who excelled in multiple sports like he did. Back then, it was mostly baseball, basketball, football and track and field.

The European soccer invasion hadn’t started yet, nor had the idea that an athlete needed to choose a sport when he was young and stick with it.

Whatever was in season, that’s what you played. That’s what Gullett did and he was good at all of them.

While Gullett may have been the best of the best individually, his McKell teams had a difficult team even making it to the region tournament in baseball and basketball because of Greenup High, who had some awfully good teams and players, too, like Dave and Tom Stultz.

And then there was Ashland, the Kings of the Hill.

The Tomcats were the dominant team of the 1960s era practically in every sport. They were the biggest school on the block and they were Title Town with state championships in basketball (1961), football (1967) and baseball (1966-68).

Little League state championships came in 1961, 1963 and 1964. The ’63 Ashland American All-Stars came within one game of making it to Williamsport for the Little League World Series.

It was the greatest era of baseball dominance this area has ever witnessed.

Ashland played some serious baseball during that decade because of great pitching — Billy and Bobby Lynch and Tim Huff, to name a few.

Some of that competition coincides directly with Gullett’s time at McKell where he graduated in 1969.

Some of McKell’s greatest football teams were with Gullett in the backfield. The ’67 Bulldogs played the Tomcats in a fight to the finish that season in Putnam Stadium.

It was one of Ashland’s toughest games, winning 21-20 — and the Tomcats were eventual state champions that season.

Gullett did his part with 80 yards rushing and three touchdowns. No other team scored more than two touchdowns against the Tomcats that season.

McKell’s only football loss in 1966 came against Ashland, 19-0.

Gullett ran into Ashland in youth league baseball games throughout his career although he seldom pitched against them.

That’s why the 1969 region tournament semifinal baseball game in Morehead against Ashland is such a strong memory for so many.

Gullett and Huff, a pair of left-handers, matched zeroes for much of the game before David Damron got the only Ashland hit and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly in a 1-0 victory.

Gullett allowed only three hits and struck out 11 — but Ashland had beaten him again.

McKell had played the Tomcats in the region basketball tournament in the spring with Ashland winning, and Gullett scored 24.

So he always performed well against the Tomcats but never came out on top.

Ashland defeated McKell 7-0 in 1968 with Huff striking out 10 but Gullett didn’t pitch in that one. The Tomcats and Bulldogs only played twice from 1966 to 1969.

“They had some great teams, championship teams,” Gullett said. “Two particular individuals, Bobby and Billy Lynch, those were great baseball players. I met them in Little League and all the way through. They weren’t the only two guys on that team. They had a lot of great players and they had great coaching. That goes a long way.”

Ashland did have a wealth of talent, which is why the Tomcats were so tough to beat. Pitching depth, especially, was better than almost anybody they faced. They came up learning how to play the right way and were fundamentally strong.

The players from that ’69 Tomcat team remember facing the dominant Gullett though and they know how fortunate it was that they survived.

Ashland went on to reach the state finals for the fourth consecutive time in 1969, but the streak ended with a 1-0 loss to Owensboro.

Gullett, meanwhile, was just beginning a major league career that led him to 109 victories and four World Series championships in a row.

Hank Aaron was the one player that Gullett never could solve. The Hammer hit .462/.583/1.316 and belted seven home runs in 26 at-bats against him — a home run every fourth time up.

In high school, it was the Ashland Tomcats who were the thorn in his side. Of course, that could be said for a lot of players and schools in the 1960s era, Gullett and McKell included.

It doesn’t speak badly of Gullett but more is a testimony to just how good Ashland was during that era, especially on the baseball field.

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.

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