ASHLAND John Cook, with a wry grin, said Ashland has been “fantastically lucky and blessed” to remain undefeated 10 games into its season.

The LadyCats indeed benefited from a pair of friendly bounces in the first half against Boyd County on Tuesday night, but plenty of skill was involved in the finishing touches of Ashland’s 4-0 victory, too.

Sophomore goalie Mikayla Martin, playing organized soccer for the first time since she was “4 or 5,” Cook said she told him, was called upon to preserve a clean sheet in the 72nd minute.

Martin dove to her right to catch a solidly struck Lady Lions penalty kick, to loud cheering from the LadyCats bench.

Cook pointed to that as the latest moment in Martin’s maturation as a keeper. Her response to being struck in the throat at Montgomery County on Saturday was another.

“I can just see her growing up, and you saw the punts,” Ashland’s first-year coach said. “That’s a weapon, when you start getting it across midfield.”

The LadyCats broke on top in the 12th minute when Reilly McLain chased down and punched in a ball from close range that had rolled free from Boyd County’s goalie.

Ashland’s Abby Huff won a 1-on-1 with the keeper six minutes later, finishing left on the ground for a two-goal advantage.

Conceding the first goal in the fashion Boyd County did sapped some of the Lady Lions’ initial energy, coach Billy Kemper said.

Boyd County nearly gained it back in the 32nd minute, when Isabella Caldwell deflected Martin’s clearance towards her empty net and Laci Boyd hustled into position to get her head on the bounding ball.

But it drifted left and off the woodwork, denying the Lady Lions their best scoring opportunity and last clear one until the penalty kick in the final minutes.

“I think our emotion was too much,” Kemper said. “We really wanted to win this game, and coming up here, we thought we had a good chance to win it, and just mentally not being ready for that, I don’t know what I can do about it.”

Huff converted a penalty kick in the 62nd minute after a Lady Lions handball in the box, and fraternal twin Clare Huff scored from long range two minutes later.

In between was a scary moment. Boyd County goalie Graci Opell went down hard after her head collided with a LadyCat’s hip and was “out for at least 30 or 45 seconds cold,” Kemper said. She eventually walked off the field under her own power, with both teams applauding. Both coaches expressed concern and well wishes for Opell after the game.

Boyd County (3-2, 0-1 63rd District seeding) entered the match having conceded the fewest goals of any team in the 16th Region — only six — while Ashland is the most prolific scoring team in the region by a double-digit margin. The Lady Lions held the LadyCats nearly three goals below their per-game average, but Ashland still extended its tally total to 64 on the year.

Cook said the LadyCats have worked on erasing slow starts to games and triangular passing. Both efforts helped Tuesday.

“Once we get one (goal) in, it seems like it takes the lid off,” Cook said. “Everybody relaxes and they start playing their game and they don’t press as much.”

Ashland improved to 9-0-1 by winning its district seeding opener. The only game the LadyCats haven’t won was a goalless draw at Johnson Central on Thursday.

“If somebody would’ve told me at almost midway this season, you guys wouldn’t have lost, I would be going, naw, there’s no way, there’s no way,” Cook said. “You don’t even dream of something like that. They’re all a very coachable group of kids.”

Cook extended a great share of the credit for that to junior sweeper Mimi Moore, who he called “Mikayla’s best friend” due to her defensive play.

Ashland improved to 39-3 in the series over the last 18 years. The LadyCats have won the last four meetings since being swept by Boyd County in three encounters in 2017.

They meet again on Sept. 19 in Cannonsburg.

“It’s a bad defeat that hurts, but I hope we can use this as motivation and get back at it,” Kemper said. “This should be a kick in the butt to come to practice and put that extra 10, 15% on there and go all out.”

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