ASHLAND It was a little bit like striking a match to touch off fireworks just as a sky-opening cloudburst doused them.
In this case, the rain isn’t just a simile. The state softball tournament quarterfinals scheduled for last Friday were postponed a week due to inclement weather.
Ashland, already dressed for the show, suddenly got another week to think about it.
“You get escorted by fire trucks and everything going out (of town), moms make goodie bags for everybody,” Kittens coach Scott Ingram said, “you get down there and we’re in uniform at breakfast, and you get that text that it’s been postponed for a week.”
Though the delay was admittedly “disappointing,” in Ingram’s words, it was merely a temporary inconvenience. Ashland still gets its shot at second-ranked Warren East and its date on the University of Kentucky’s John Cropp Field on Friday at 1 p.m.
“We get another week together, you get to prepare a little bit more and you gotta make the best of it,” Ingram said. “What are you gonna do? You just deal with it. There could be worse things. We could be sitting at home right now wishing we hadn’t lost in the first round of the regional tournament. I’ll take this over the latter.”
One reason the tournament was postponed an entire week instead of just until the rain ended was John Cropp Field was unavailable Monday and Tuesday due to a UK prospect camp, said KHSAA spokesman Joe Angolia.
Ashland has worked to stay sharp through the layoff without overdoing it by simply practicing how it normally does, Ingram said. That includes some game-situational work.
The extra rest has also helped some of the Kittens’ “nicks and bruises” and sore arms common to this stage of the season heal, Ingram said.
Warren East took that philosophy to another level. After the Lady Raiders bused home last Friday, coach Philip McKinney dismissed his players until Tuesday.
“It rained all weekend down here in Bowling Green, and we were gonna be inside, and it’s the end of the season. What else can we really improve on?” McKinney said. “Girls are a little bit different. They get tired of each other. ... I love them to death. I’d rather coach girls than boys, but sometimes you’ve just gotta give them a break.
“If they’re not feeling it and they’re not fired up, you’re not gonna make them fired up.”
One aspect of preparation the time off hasn’t changed is the Kittens’ and Lady Raiders’ general unfamiliarity with each other. They have one common opponent — Lafayette.
Warren East beat the Generals, 3-0, on April 1 in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Lafayette topped Ashland, 6-0, on May 5 in Lexington.
“Having not seen (Warren East) with my own eyes, you’re still kind of guessing a little bit. I assume they haven’t seen us, either, unless they got on Facebook or something,” Ingram said, referring to Ashland parents’ practice of streaming games on Facebook Live. He then mused, “Maybe I need to be checking a Facebook page.”
After defeating Johnson Central in Semi-State 8 play in a rematch of a 2014 State showdown, Ashland meets another familiar face from the recent past in the quarterfinals Friday.
The Kittens knocked off Warren East 2-1 to advance to the 2015 state tournament’s final three on soon-to-be-named-Miss Softball Megan Hensley’s 10th-inning home run.
After a reporter commented to Ingram that he’d forgotten the Lady Raiders were the foil in Ashland’s first trip to the state’s final four in program history, the coach dryly replied: “I bet they haven’t.”
Ingram was correct. None of today’s Kittens dressed for Ashland that evening in Owensboro, and only one was available — Zoë Ingram, then an eighth-grader whom her father and coach had listed on the roster in case of emergency, he said.
But three Lady Raiders played in that game. Katie Gardner, this year’s Miss Softball, pitched as an eighth-grader and worked into the 10th inning. Kelsey Sparks played left field and Hailey Hymer courtesy-ran. Both were then seventh-graders.
McKinney said Warren East was well aware of who was up next after the Lady Raiders beat Daviess County and the Kittens topped Johnson Central in semi-state play.
“We talked a little bit about it. It was a heck of a battle with (Hensley),” McKinney said. “It is a little different. That was our first year since I’ve been at East that we got to State. Now this is our third time. A little bit different mindset, the kids have got quite a bit of experience, but yeah, we most definitely have talked about the run in 2015.”
Ingram didn’t put much emphasis on the rematch angle, though.
“They’ve played a lot of ball games since then. I’m not so sure they’ve hung onto that loss and put it on a bulletin board anywhere,” Ingram said. “If they have, that’s fine. It was four years ago. It’s irrelevant to our girls because there wasn’t anybody that that affected for us, and I’ve not even brought it up ... it’s been a while back.”
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