Nathan Ryver has noticed something.
Fleming County's softball coach has led the Lady Panthers (21-17 last season) to three 61st District titles (2009-10 and last season) in the last four years. He used to think you could pencil in his team and Rowan County to the 16th Region Tournament for at least three good reasons: both teams reached at least the regional semifinals in ’09 and last year; Rowan County was the region runner-up four years ago; both won at least 20 games in two of the last three seasons, and the 2009 Lady Vikings finished at 23-18.
“This is the first year I can remember three teams can win it,” Ryver said. “Us and Rowan County, (and) Menifee County is scary. I don't want to play (Menifee County) in the first round.”
The most frightening of Menifee County's players? It's likely junior pitcher Erika Brewer, for at least two reasons — she struck out nearly 300 last year, and her 12.34 strikeouts per game average was eighth best in the state.
Brewer's coach, Kevin Hale, could possibly talk for hours about her if you let him.
“She's a powerful pitcher with a lot of movement,” Hale said. “She's got a lot of stamina. She can pitch a lot of games; she can pitch three and four games back to back.”
Brewer is also the most visible part of a resurgent program in Frenchburg. Menifee County's 16-11 record in 2012 was the first over-.500 season in Hale's first four seasons — not bad for a team that won only twice in 2008.
“(When) I took over, we started a new program,” Hale said. “We just spent a lot of time with (the players), is probably the easiest thing to say.”
Menifee County is still a relatively young team; freshman Elizabeth Dotson is the starting catcher, and sophomores Allie Lawson and Allie Heaton are the second baseman and shortstop, respectively. Two seniors, center fielder Paige Warren (who concentrated on basketball and didn't play last year) and outfielder Haley Lane, should also start.
Fleming County lost three starters from the 2012 squad. Ryver doesn't seem worried in part because junior shortstop Kira Brown and senior catcher Paige Hurst return.
“(Brown's) been my shortstop since she was a freshman,” Ryver said. “(Hurst's) hitting a lot of line drives. Both her and Kira are good base runners.”
Ryver said junior Rachel Boyd will pitch most of the time, and he added that she's improved her drop ball. There's a mix of youth and experience elsewhere: eighth-grader Tori Ishmael and senior Celena Wagner take care of two outfield spots.
Rowan County's 24-16 record was the 61st's best, but the Lady Vikings fell to Fleming County three times last year, including the district final.
“We expect to win the district,” said Rowan County coach Larry Slone. “That's our expectation … Overall, I think we'll be as good as last year.”
The Lady Vikings lost four starters — two infielders graduated, another outfielder decided not to play, and an outfielder transferred. Slone said the core group — pitcher Morgan Mitchell, catcher Lindsey Wilson, left fielder Becca Duff and senior center fielder McKenzie Summers — return.
“(Duff) is our No. 3 hitter, a solid hitter, hits with power,” Slone said. “(Summers) puts the bat on the ball, hits over .300.”
Junior Allie Banks is the starting shortstop, and Lewis County transfer Courtnae Bolander should start at first base and pitch.
Bath County slogged to an 8-23 record a year ago. This year's Lady Cats are young — of the 21 girls listed on the roster, there are eight freshmen, 10 sophomores, one junior and two seniors — but coach Kenny Williams said many of the younger players enter their second or third year in the system.
Pitcher/outfielder Amber Martin (who missed the season-opening doubleheader sweep March 16 over Sheldon Clark with a sore back left over from basketball season) and shortstop Megan Penick (a near-.400 hitter last season) are the seniors. Among the younger players, sophomore pitcher/utility player Morgan Howard is in her third year in the program.
“We're still looking for a 20-win season,” Williams said.
Nathan Ryver has noticed something.
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VIDEO: 16th Region semifinals highlights
Fleming County defeated Lewis County, 66-58, and Ashland beat Greenup County, 81-61, on Monday night at Morehead State University to set up tonight's championship matchup. Tipoff is set for 7.
Ashland cruises past Greenup to 16th Region championship game
Tyler Stewart is known for his unrelenting hustle as one of Ashland’s glue guys.
When the senior guard can pitch in some offense too, as he did Monday in the 16th Region Tournament semifinals, that’s just one more problem for Tomcats opponents.
Stewart scored 20 points, senior Steven Friley posted a double-double with 21 points and 14 rebounds, and Ashland outscored Greenup County 21-9 in the third quarter to break open what was a seven-point game at halftime and cruise past the Musketeers, 81-61.
Fleming battles back to 16th Region final
A healthy Wilder Williams this season has given Fleming County a whole new dimension.
Prior to his sophomore year, Williams sustained a football injury that resulted in three ankle surgeries and limited him to bench duty last season while the Panthers made their run to the 16th Region championship.
A physical 6-foot-3 player, Williams is making his presence felt around the basket as Fleming County looks to return to the Sweet Sixteen.
AARON SNYDER: Will the next hero be unmasked?
Who will the bat signal shine for tonight?
Or, should I say, the Cat signal?
In the third installment of a trilogy that might rival the Batman three-pack of “Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” Fleming County and Ashland will battle in a matchup that has produced a classic clash in each of the last two 16th Region Tournaments.
If the first two collectively served as a gradual progressions to tonight’s scene, the climax could be off the charts.
Corey Gregg was Ashland’s superhero in 2012, when the senior confidently fired a perfect 3-point shot from the right corner. The triple thrust the Tomcats and Panthers into overtime, from which Ashland emerged 79-73 in a first-round game.
Central wins, Lawrence falls in 15th
The biggest concern for Lawrence County coach Josh Cook was staying out of foul trouble.
His team stayed in it all night, and it cost them a spot in the 15th Region title game.
Shelby Valley senior Tyler Carr led four players in double figures with 19 points as the Wildcats knocked off Lawrence County, 72-60, in the semifinals of the 15th Region Tournament at the East Kentucky Expo Center.
“This one hurts,” said Cook. “We’ll learn from this, and I have no doubt that our kids will get back here and finish the job.”
- Fleming hangs tough to beat Lewis Fleming County locked into another fight against Lewis County, which beat the Panthers earlier this season, before winning 66-58 on Monday in Morehead. Wilder Williams posted a double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Panthers, who face Ashland on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
- GALLERY: Ashland gets by Greenup County, will meet Fleming in region final Ashland's Steven Friley scored 21 points Monday to lead the Tomcats to an 81-61 win over Greenup County in the 16th Region semifinal in Morehead.
Kittens clamoring for more at state
Ashland girls basketball coaches went the extra mile, and a whole bunch more, to get a first-hand scouting report on the Kittens’ opponent for the State Tournament.
Head coach Bill Bradley and assistant Phil Wittich drove all the way to Henderson — 5 hours, 20 minutes one way Bradley said on the way home — to take in Sunday’s Second Region championship game.
Henderson County, playing on its home floor, defeated University Heights 67-54. The Lady Colonels went unbeaten in their region this season and are 24-5 overall.
EKC hands out hardware
The Eastern Kentucky Conference handed out its 2014 awards on Monday afternoon at a luncheon at Carter Caves.
Barracudas earn kudos from coach
Ashland Area YMCA swimmers impressed coach Ryan Ferguson from start to finish in the three-day Kentucky Y Competitive Swim League State Meet.
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