For The Independent
What Ashland girls basketball coach Bill Bradley thought could happen in October will happen tonight.
The defending 16th Region champion Kittens meet Boyd County — the 2011 titlist — for a trip to the “Sweet 16” at 7 p.m. at Morehead State University's Ellis T. Johnson Arena.
Ashland earned its spot with Monday's 69-59 semifinal win over Lewis County behind sophomore Haley Sue Foutch's 23 points and sophomore Alexis Robinson's 22.
To say Ashland and Boyd County are familiar foes is a lot like observing that basketball rims are orange. The Kittens dethroned Boyd County last year, 55-44, and in 2011, the Lady Lions prevailed, 57-47.
“It's the 13th time in three years, the 13th time in three years,” Bradley said of tonight's contest. “It's got to be close to a state record. So obviously we know each other's offenses and defenses and all that; it should be a matter of who outworks who.”
Robinson admitted she wanted to meet Boyd County.
“I enjoy playing Boyd because it's always a good game,” she said. “There's a lot of intensity in the game, and you just don't find that a lot in girls basketball.”
Ashland (24-6) has won twice in three meetings this season, including a 61-54 triumph in the 64th District finals Feb. 21 at Ashland's Anderson Gym.
Robinson scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the district championship game, while Boyd County (26-8) countered with 20 points from Taylor Wheeler and Emily Stewart's 16.
Bradley expects lots of aggression from Boyd County tonight.
“They always come out strong here in Morehead, they really come after you hard, like a big wave,” Bradley said. “So if we can control their aggression the first two, three minutes of each half, I think it'll be a great game.”
Robinson said it would be “slow but fast at the same time.”
“From where Boyd plays a zone, it slows down, and we don't get many transition points,” Robinson said. “And then, on the other hand, when they come to us, it gets faster.”
Against Lewis County, Foutch and Robinson staged their own competition, and not just because of the scoring. Robinson added 12 rebounds and five assists, while Foutch grabbed four rebounds to go with an assist, a block and a steal.
“We went to (Hager) elementary school together,” Foutch said. “... It's always a friendly competition.”
For about five minutes of Monday's first quarter, Lewis County's front line of sophomore Savannah Anderson, senior Tori Liles, and guard senior Taylor Frye battled Robinson, Foutch and senior Kaylyn Gambill. It was a standoff: a 10-10 tie featuring Robinson's six points and four apiece from Anderson and Liles.
The last two minutes? Advantage, Robinson and Cullop — Robinson had five points (she finished the half with 11 points), and Cullop scored four.
And Lewis County's offense? After Jaycey Fite's 3-pointer tied the game at 13-all with 1:10 left in the first quarter, there were no points whatsoever until Fite nailed another three a little more than a minute into the second.
Robinson's first-quarter scoring highlighted an 11-6 Ashland run — the Kittens led 24-16 a little more than two minutes into the second quarter — but the biggest scoring streak was a one-person feat.
Foutch drew her second personal foul a little more than two minutes into the game. It looked like Bradley was taking a chance bringing her back midway through the second quarter, but he said it wasn't.
“She's one we can do that with,” Bradley said. “... She's a really smart player, especially for a sophomore. I've tried that five, six times this year; she's never gotten her third foul toward the end (of the half).”
Foutch made Bradley look smarter than Connecticut women's head coach Geno Auriemma for sticking with her: a 3-pointer from the top of the free-throw circle; a 12-footer from the right wing; a stickback off her offensive rebound; another three from the same spot as the first; and one more field goal with 1:41 left before intermission.
That's 12 points in less than three minutes.
After Ashland took a 39-30 halftime lead, Lewis County opened the third quarter with a Darbi Hardin 10-footer and Taylor Frye's 18-footer in 45 seconds.
Then, more Foutch and Robinson. Foutch scored eight more points, Robinson added seven, and the Kittens led, 55-44, with one stanza left.
“Sometimes you've just got to hope they don't make shots,” Lewis County coach Jay Fite said.
Lewis County made just two field goals in a little more than 10 minutes that spanned the third and fourth quarters, but that wasn't why the Lady Lions trailed, 62-54, with 1:38 remaining — they made just eight of 21 free throws, part of a 24-of-41 nightmare.
“We got gassed,” Fite said. “... Everything was a little bit short or kind of a line drive-type shot. We got exactly what we wanted.”
Anderson and Liles led Lewis County (18-13) with 16 points each. Anderson had 13 rebounds.
Foutch was smart enough to not make a prediction about tonight's contest.
“The best two teams are in the finals, I think,” Foutch said. “You are in the finals for a reason. We're both going to battle hard.”
‰Tickets go on sale at 1 p.m. today at Ashland Blazer High School. Information: 606-327-6040.