The 2019 All-Area Softball Team’s headliner players feel privileged to carry on their school traditions.
The Daily Independent’s sports staff tabbed Ashland’s Mykayla Akers as Pitcher of the Year. Position Player of the Year went to Raceland’s Chloe Collins.
Growing up, Akers remembers peering through the backstop to see Ashland pitching greats Katelyn Miller and Megan Hensley.
“It’s very special,” Akers said after receiving her honor at the All-Area awards presentation. “As a little girl you watch people like that thinking it was you. They put so much into what they did. It’s awesome being recognized for all my hard work that went into this.”
Meanwhile, Collins hammered 14 home runs and 14 doubles as Raceland set a school record with 28 wins.
The slugging third baseman followed in the footsteps of Morgan Curley, who twice received the Position Player accolade with the Lady Rams — most recently last season.
“Morgan’s my best friend even though she is at college,” Collins said. “As soon as I found out, I called her. I think she was more excited than I was excited to share it. It’s nice to keep it in the Raceland team.”
Said Lady Rams coach Shown Johnson: “We’ve got good players. Chloe’s a sophomore. What’s not to say that it will not happen again?”
Collins’s 67 RBIs ranked second in the state — based on stats reported to the KHSAA. Her 62 hits also ranked in the top 10.
Johnson likens the sound of Collins driving the ball to that of former Miss Softball Amber Riddle of Rowan County.
“I watched Riddle, I think, hit three doubles one game,” Johnson recalled. “The crack of the bat is different. That’s the way it is when Chloe connects. When she squares it up, it’s the same thing. You go, ‘Wow!’ She’s hit some line drives that the infielders didn’t get their glove up.”
Collins got off to a slow start this spring before her bat heated up.
“Coach Johnson had me come in on a Sunday and hit off the tee,” Collins said. “We went back to the basics. He’s the best teacher of the game you could ask for, definitely a stickler for the small things.”
Ashland’s Akers, a senior, harnessed her control this season by entering the circle with a different approach.
“I tried to change my mindset,” she said. “This year I focused on attacking the batter, putting pressure on them instead of me. It helped me realize what I was capable of doing. It definitely paid off, same with the team. We realized we had to stop playing tight and tense.”
The Kittens advanced all the way to the state’s Elite Eight as Akers shared pitching duties with All-Area teammate Haylie Haney.
Akers won 13 games and saved three others while compiling a 2.42 ERA. She struck out 175 batters in 124 1-3 innings and excelled down the stretch. Along with her fine production in the circle, Akers smacked 11 home runs and drove in 37 runs as a .367 hitter.
Akers pitched a three-hitter in Ashland’s 1-0 victory over Johnson Central in the Semi-State 8 game. In her previous start — the 16th Region Tournament semifinals — she also limited Rowan County to three hits as the Kittens prevailed, 2-1.
“I think it’s well-deserved,” Ashland coach Scott Ingram said of the All-Area pitching accolade. “Mykayla works hard and she had an excellent season. I think this year she just had more overall confidence in herself. Her junior year, the kid went through a lot that a teenager in a perfect world wouldn’t have to go through.”
Akers lost grandparents Rita and Eddie Devaney to cancer last summer.
“It’s been tough this season not having them here,” Akers said. “They liked coming to the games.”
Akers said she’s fortunate to be able to lean on strong support from her parents.
“My dad (Charlie) isn’t afraid to get on a bucket in the yard and catch me,” Mykayla said. “He’s the first person I go to if I need help with something.”
Ashland won its eighth 16th Region championship in 11 years behind two strong starters. Haney went 12-5 with a 1.99 ERA. She shut out high-scoring Raceland on four hits in the region final.
“Me and Haylie go well with each other,” Akers said. “We have two different styles that complement each other.”
Just as importantly, according to their coach, the two quality pitchers made the arrangement work.
“Mykayla and Haylie have been very unselfish this year,” Ingram said. “Whoever got the ball that day, they were very encouraging with each other. They put the team first. I’m proud of both of them.”
The two Kentucky Christian University signees benefited from working with All-Area catcher Lauren Spears.
The sophomore provided strong defense along with an outstanding bat. Spears, who combines speed and power, paced the Kittens with a .458 average, including 10 doubles, eight triples and eight long balls. The last one came in the state quarterfinals as Spears earned a spot on the All-Tournament team. She finished with 52 runs and stole 18 bases in 19 attempts.
Ashland (25-12) leads the All-Area team with four selections by coaches. Senior shortstop Zoë Ingram anchored the infield to go with a potent bat — .407 average, 32 runs and 30 RBIs.
Region runner-up Raceland and Russell each landed three players.
Joining Collins from the Lady Rams are senior Rylee Austin (.430, 22 extra-base hits) and sophomore Kierston Smith (.387, 47 runs, 41 RBIs along with 9-2 pitching record, 2.71 ERA).
Russell is represented by the senior trio of Makayla Fraley (.457, 17 doubles), Haven Layne (.505, 15 doubles, seven wins in circle) and Grace Osborn (.479, 42 runs, 24-24 stolen bases).
Lewis County features All-Area Coach of the Year Mike Diller along with two of the honorary squad’s three eighth-graders.
In his second season in Vanceburg, Diller guided the Lady Lions to 22 wins and a title in the highly competitive 63rd District.
“Wow, I was pinching myself for days after that,” Diller said of the program’s first district championship in 15 years.
The Lady Lions opened the season with a 10-game winning streak.
“We just came out like a ball of fire, ready to roll,” Diller said. “We had a couple of lulls — everybody did — and came back at the end.”
Lewis County’s days as a region non-contender or even darkhorse appear to be over.
“People said the future is bright, but we felt like we can compete right now,” Diller said. “We were trying to get in the conversation. Now we’re in the top end of that conversation. Being relevant, it’s good for our program.”
The Lady Lions made a jump after going 15-16 in Diller’s first year.
“We had a lot of nice leadership this season with our two seniors,” he said. “We have a lot of young players. We are on our way up. I hope we can stay there.”
Pitcher Emily Cole and power-hitting Kayla Sullivan will only be freshmen next season. Cole went 20-11 with a 2.23 ERA in the circle — plus .350 at the plate, aided by 10 doubles. Sullivan swatted eight 10 homers, nine doubles and a couple of triples. The .449 hitter drove in 38 runs and scored 37.
Other teams with two All-Area players include East Carter, Boyd County, Rowan County and Bath County — all with at least 22 wins.
East Carter tied for the area lead with 28 wins despite saying goodbye to superstar pitcher Montana Fouts, Louisville signee Eden Mayo and other key starters.
Two of the main reasons were freshman pitcher Sky Bloemer and junior Graycee Castle. Bloemer posted a 22-7 record and 2.23 ERA while batting .429 with 20 extra-base hits. Castle hit at a .410 clip, highlighted by 16 doubles and five home runs.
Boyd County, the 64th District winner, placed seniors Graci Borders and Bailey Conley. Borders, a mainstay in center field, hit .427 and stole 23 bases. Conley batted .479 with 46 RBIs and was a 15-game winner in the circle. She fanned 146 batters and posted a 2.85 ERA.
Rowan County eighth-grader Haven Ford made a major impact for the 26-game winners. She batted .400, scored 42 runs and knocked in 35. Among her 50 hits were 20 doubles, five triples and seven homers. Senior teammate Macy Jones had a big year pitching (17-5, 1.89 ERA) as well as hitting (.475, 43 runs, 43 RBIs, 21 doubles).
Bath County left-hander McKenna Moore, a 14-game winner, struck out 180 batters on the way to a 1.89 ERA. Offensively, she put up a .490 average and scored 44 runs. Sophomore teammate Jesselin Miller batted .450 with 24 extra-base hits and 51 RBIs for the 22-11 team.
Johnson Central sophomore Chloe VanHoose led her team to the 15th Region championship. The 20-game winner with a 1.62 ERA piled up 234 strikeouts in 164 innings. She also batted .368. Junior Halli Caudill was a catalyst behind Lawrence County’s drive to a 58th District title and 26-win finish.
Two other sophomore selections generated eye-popping stats: Fleming County’s Sidney Argo (.609, 33 steals) and Elliott County’s Maleigh McDaniel (.521, 31 extra-base hits, 14 wins, 206 strikeouts).
(606) 326-2671 |
Mykayla Akers (Ashland)
Sidney Argo (Fleming Co.)
Rylee Austin (Raceland)
Sky Bloemer (East Carter)
Graci Borders (Boyd Co.)
Graycee Castle (East Carter)
Halli Caudill (Lawrence Co.)
Emily Cole (Lewis Co.)
Chloe Collins (Raceland)
Bailey Conley (Boyd Co.)
Mykenzie Crosier (Greenup Co.)
Makayla Fraley (Russell)
Haven Ford (Rowan Co.)
Haylie Haney (Ashland)
Zoë Ingram (Ashland)
Macy Jones (Rowan Co.)
Haven Layne (Russell)
Maleigh McDaniel (Elliott Co.)
Jesselin Miller (Bath Co.)
Grace Osborn (Russell)
Kierston Smith (Raceland)
Lauren Spears (Ashland)
McKenna Moore (Bath Co.)
Kayla Sullivan (Lewis Co.)
Chloe VanHoose (Johnson Central)
POSITION PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Chloe Collins (Raceland)
PITCHER OF THE YEAR
Mykayla Akers (Ashland)
COACH OF THE YEAR
Mike Diller (Lewis Co.)
UMPIRE OF THE YEAR
ASHLAND — Ruthie Paholsky, Kenzi Robinson. BATH COUNTY — Savannah Hamilton, Kennedy Thomas. BOYD COUNTY — Tori Badgett, Emma Borders, Olivia Mulhearn. EAST CARTER — Emily Goodman, Hannah Williams, Caroline Young. FAIRVIEW — Maddie Reihs. GREENUP COUNTY — Zoey Keeton, Shae Moore. JOHNSON CENTRAL — Alaina Castle, Alyssa Hedrick. MORGAN COUNTY — Autumn Cole, Carson Oney. PAINTSVILLE — Anna Keeton. RACELAND — Aspyn Branham, Cameryn Davidson, Emily Johnson, Raegan West. ROWAN COUNTY — Lexi Morris. WEST CARTER — Becca Nolen.