FLEMINGSBURG The combined populations of Vanceburg, Tollesboro, Quincy, Garrison and Firebrick may claim they watched Lewis County make softball history.
The source of the collective glee: At 9:20 p.m. Tuesday, the Lady Lions won their first 16th Region title, a 6-4 victory over Ashland at Fleming County.
The merriment may have lasted all night for a lot of reasons.
Begin with Lady Lions pitcher and tournament most valuable player Emily Cole, and not just because she threw 316 pitches in a little more than 26 hours.
In wins over Rowan County, Boyd County and Ashland, Cole struck out 45 batters, including a career-high 22 in Monday's 12-inning 5-3 win over Boyd County, and 10 against Ashland.
“This is indescribable,” Cole said. “This is great for our community, so it really means a lot to us. We're always the underdogs in every sport … and I thought this was our year to do it.”
Continue with second baseman Kayla Sullivan and right fielder Sarah Paige Weddington. Sullivan had a double and scored twice, and Weddington was 2 for 3 with two runs.
And finally, a bit of irony. Coach Joe Hampton – better known for coaching Lewis County boys basketball – received the water-bottle bath befitting a region champion in his first season in the dugout.
“Chased it for 21 years as a head coach and a few years as an assistant coach,” Hampton said of his basketball career. “Did I ever think we could do it when I started the season? Absolutely. These girls have talent. They have great work ethic, and I knew they were capable.
“… I probably learned more softball from them than they did from me.”
Ashland pitcher Kenzi Robinson had little trouble in the first inning. She struck out Sullivan swinging, caught Weddington looking and got Madison Liles on a foul pop-up to Lauren Spears.
A Lewis County miscue caused some fan-based disputation and led to Ashland's first run. Camryn Cassidy reached first on an error, stole second despite Lewis County fans' complaints to the contrary and scored on Spears' sacrifice fly.
The Lady Lions (21-8) scored three times in the third with hits long and short. Maddie Johnson's infield single, Sullivan's double, Weddington reaching first on a fielder's choice and singles from Madison Liles and Cole accounted for the scoring.
Ashland (20-15) closed to within 3-2 in the bottom of the third with a run that shouldn't have been. Cole struck out Robinson, but a passed ball allowed Kaythan Baer to score from third.
The Lady Lions faced – and fought through – their scariest situation in the bottom of the fifth. Ashland loaded the bases with one out – and got nothing because Alanna Puente forced out Taylor Hamilton at the plate and Cole fanned Kendall Hillard.
“I tried to use my changeup more,” said Cole, who remembered an 11-7 loss to the Kittens on May 24.
“A little bit” is how Ashland coach Scott Ingram summarized the trouble the Kittens had with Cole's off-speed offerings.
“Give the kid credit,” Ingram said. “She threw to midnight (Monday), threw 800 pitches and came out and threw a heck of a ball game (Tuesday) … It just doesn't go your way some nights.”
Lewis County finished their scoring in the seventh with two runs on an error, Weddington's single and Cole's double.
Ashland scored twice on Spears' double and a wild pitch, but Cole struck out Hillard to start the celebration.
“Changeup,” Cole said of the final pitch.
Next for Lewis County: Wolfe County or Perry County Central in the opening of the state tournament at 11 a.m. Friday at the University of Kentucky's John Cropp Stadium in Lexington.
Weddington's mom, Leslie Weddington, faced a dilemma Lewis County's parents likely share. She's an occupational therapist at Kings' Daughters Medical Center in Ashland, but she wants to take Friday off.
Upon further review, Leslie Weddington doesn't have a problem at all.
“I don't know how I'm going to get off, but I'm going,” she said. “It's going to happen.”
LEWIS CO. 003 001 2 – 6 7 2
ASHLAND 101 000 2 – 4 3 3
Cole and Tackett; Robinson and Spears. WP-Cole; LP-Robinson. 2B-Sullivan (LC), Cole (LC), Spears (A).
All-Tournament team: Rowan County – Haven Ford; Russell – Ava Ratliff; Elliott County – Mal McDaniel; East Carter – Karsen Prichard; Bath County – Jesselin Miller, Diamond Wills; Boyd County – Tori Badgett, Sara Bays; Ashland – Lauren Spears, Kenzi Robinson, Kendall Hillard; Lewis County – Kelsi Tackett, Kayla Sullivan, Sarah Paige Weddington.
Most Valuable Player: Emily Cole, Lewis County.