After putting together a 16-0 run in the first quarter, Ashland looked to have worked through a shaky start and ready to take care of business Thursday against Lewis County.
But two-time defending 16th region champs or not, the Lady Lions were not going away.
The Kittens were, however, able to fend off every charge and survive a commanding inside performance by Savannah Anderson to escape with a 63-61 victory.
Lewis County (1-1) took home-court advantage literally in the early going, seemingly having the Kittens (2-0) rattled as it jumped to a 9-2 lead behind a raucous crowd.
“This is a tough place to play and the girls who haven’t played before aren’t used to this,” Ashland coach Bill Bradley said. “(Lewis County) is a veteran team and they’ve gotten a little bit better each year, and now they’re trying to take that next step.”
Along with Anderson’s game-high 28 points, mostly having her way in the paint, Ashland also had to finish the game without Alexis Robinson. The junior fouled out with 1:33 to go after the Kittens had edged ahead 61-55.
The Lady Lions then pulled within two at 61-59 with baskets from Anderson and Emily Frye with 50 seconds remaining. With 34 seconds left, Haley-Sue Foutch hit one-of-two from the line to make it 62-59.
Lewis County, which had connected six times from behind the arc, got two looks at 3’s as time wound down but couldn’t connect.
“We got down nine points (in the fourth) and had a chance to tie the game with 10 seconds left,” Lady Lions coach Jay Fite said. “We got a good look and I’ll take that look every night if we can get it. I’m just proud of their effort to claw back.”
Key down the stretch for Ashland was going 9-of-12 at the free throw line in the fourth quarter, much to the delight of Bradley.
“That was huge, especially the way (Foutch) hit them,” Bradley said of the junior forward going 4-of-5 during the span. “After (Robinson) fouled out she really took over for us.”
Ashland’s big first-quarter run helped it enjoy a 20-10 lead going into the second quarter, but the Lady Lions rallied with a 15-2 run of their own to reclaim the lead at 28-24 after trailing 22-13. Anderson scored 8 straight during the run, which was then capped by a 3-pointer from Abby Pick.
“There have been times that if a team made a run like that on us, we’d melt,” Fite said. “We had a couple minutes where you could see some doubt but then we made some shots, held tough and played the way we do.”
Ashland then trailed 31-27 at halftime before a tightly contested third quarter in which the score was tied four times and the lead changed hands four times as well. Robinson had scored just two points in the first half for the Kittens but rallied for nine during the third quarter on her way to 16 for the game.
“(Robinson) struggled in the first half but turned it on in the second half,” Bradley said. “But I liked our character tonight. We fought back in a tough environment.”
Foutch led Ashland with 17 points and was joined in double figures by Robinson, Shelby Gransberry (14) and Alex Young (11), who hit three 3-pointers.
“Beside (Foutch) and (Robinson), all the rest are really in their first year of playing,” Bradley said. “But we had four in double-figures for the second game in a row and that shows our balance.”
Jaycey Fite led the Lady Lions’ outside shooting efforts, connecting on five 3-pointers, on her way to 17 points. Anderson also grabbed 12 rebounds to finish with a double-double.
The Kittens have eight days off before facing St. Joseph Central from West Virginia on December 13 in the Boyd County Roundball Classic.
“They’re the five-time defending state champion in West Virginia so it’s going to be a tough one,” Bradley said. “We just have to learn from our mistakes tonight. We some silly fouls near the end and a couple of turnovers but that will get better with experience. As long as we learn from it we’ll be OK.”
ASHLAND 20 7 19 17 — 63
LEWIS CO. 10 21 13 17 — 61
Ashland (63): Foutch 17, A. Robinson 16, Gransberry 14, Young 11, Roberts 3, M. Robinson 2. 3-pt FG Made: 4 (Young 3, A. Robinson). Team FT: 11-14. Fouls: 15. Turnovers: 12.
Lewis County (61): Frye 10, Fite 17, Anderson 28, Pick 6. 3-pt FG Made: 7 (Fite 5, Pick 2). Team FT: 6-15. Fouls: 13. Turnovers: 21.