ASHLAND It was a night of firsts in the 16th Region Softball All-Star game on Thursday night at Ashland Blazer High School.
A game scheduled for nine innings went 10 for the first time in the game’s fourth annual installment.
Lauren Spears also added a first in her career as the Ashland catcher launched a pair of home runs to lift the Salty Seahorses to a 9-6 win over the Smokin’ Aces.
“I’ve never done that before,” Spears said. “It felt awesome. Being on Ashland’s home field is great. I haven’t been here since our last game so to be back home, it was awesome.”
Spears paced her squad with a 3-for-4, five-RBI performance at the dish. Her final RBI plated Fleming County’s Sidney Argo from second for the eventual game winner. Spears was named Most Valuable Player for the Seahorses.
“Nobody should pitch to Lauren Spears, but I hope they keep doing it,” said Aces skipper Scott Ingram. The Ashland coach was forced to watch Spears blast through his pitching staff and found himself in the middle of an interesting team huddle break in the seventh inning.
“We hate Lauren Spears,” the Smokin’ Aces teammates laughed as they broke the huddle around Ingram. However, he was quick to point out he was not to blame.
“That actually wasn’t my idea,” Ingram said. “I love Lauren Spears. She’s just unbelievable; certainly deserved the MVP she got.”
The Seahorses snatched an early 1-0 lead after a leadoff single by Argo resulted in an RBI groundout by Rowan County’s Macy Jones.
Spears added some cushion in the fifth with a two-run blast to left center that landed in the lane of traffic traveling toward the high school for a 3-0 edge.
Elliott County’s Maleigh McDaniel led off the Aces’ sixth with a double and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Boyd County’s Bekah Badgett to trim the deficit to only two.
But Spears struck again with a ball that had just enough to clear the fence in right center for her second long ball of the night.
“She just hit it enough to clear the fence and it gave us a nice four-run cushion,” Seahorses coach Mike Diller said. “We thought we were good, and we were good, but they didn’t give up. They’re All-Stars for a reason and they play hard for a reason.”
Entering the bottom of the ninth, the Aces trailed 6-2 and were down to their final strike when Elliott County’s Malinda Cox came through.
Bekah Badgett led off the inning with a hit-by-pitch, Ashland’s Haylie Haney laced a single to right and Tori Badgett followed with an RBI single to right of her own to make it 6-3. West Carter’s Becca Nolen worked a two-out walk and Cox threaded a liner into the left corner to clear the bases with a three-runI triple.
“I’ve always like pressure,” Cox said. “I hit my first home run off a full count, so I was feeling pretty good when I came up to bat. The nerves finally wore off and I was ready to hit.”
Ingram complimented Cox’s approach with the game on the line.
“I asked her if she was nervous and she said, no, that she was ready to go, and you could tell,” Ingram said.
Cox was named the MVP for the Smokin’ Aces. The triple was her only hit of the night, but it was arguably one of the biggest.
East Carter’s Sky Bloemer returned to the circle with two outs in the ninth to halt the rally. She induced a groundout to short to end the inning. While many thought the game had ended in a 6-6 tie, the coaches and players decided to play one more frame, a decision Diller was happy to agree to under the governing extra-inning rules.
“When they said we are going international (rules), we were like, oh yeah,” Diller laughed. “We’ve got Sidney Argo at second base.”
The ruling places the last recorded out at second base to start the inning, which was Argo. However, she was not there very long as Spears laced her third hit of the night into center for a 7-6 lead.
Argo was awarded the Gamechanger Award after her 3-for-4, four-run night.
Jones and Morgan County’s Carson Oney followed with RBI singles for a 9-6 lead and Bloemer pitched a clean 10th for the win. The Raider hurler worked 3 1-3 innings of no-hit ball while striking out four.
Regardless of the outcome, players from both teams covered the field taking pictures with teammates and new friends.
“It’s so much fun because you get to play with the best in the region and you get to make new friends, too,” Spears said.
“This was just a really fun game,” Ingram said. “I told them after, I would be a part of this every single year. I’ve enjoyed every game I’ve been a part of.
“It’s fun to see these girls get out and just interact with each other,” he added. “A lot of them know each other but to just get out here and get a chance to interact with each other, it’s fun.”
SALTY 100 020 210 3 — 9 14 2
SMOKIN’ 000 001 104 0 — 6 9 1
Bloemer, Jones (3), Crosier (6), Cole (7) and Bloemer (9) and Oney and Spears; Haney, McDaniel (4) and Moore (7) and McDaniel and Miller. W —Bloemer. L —Moore. 2B—McDaniel (SA), T. Badgett (SA). 3B—Cox (SA). HR—Spears 2 (SH).