COALTON Ashland’s pitching has been so good the Kittens even managed to win the Semi-State 8 title Saturday despite being no-hit by Johnson Central’s Chloe VanHoose.
Mykayla Akers struck out nine batters in a 1-0 victory at Championship Fastpitch Complex — home field of Kentucky Christian University.
“It’s an indescribable feeling,” said Akers, a KCU signee. “It’s the state (tournament). We beat a good team and got a win on my future college field.”
The Kittens improved to 25-11 and will play Warren East in the Elite Eight on Friday — time to be determined — at the University of Kentucky.
“I’m so pumped up to go to UK’s field,” Akers said. “Little girls grow up dreaming about doing this. I’m so excited to see what we can do next.”
Akers and Haylie Haney, both seniors, continue to be brilliant in the circle with the Kittens’ season riding on it. In five postseason games, they’ve yielded only two runs — one earned.
“I just told the team they need to carry Mykayla and Haylie out of here on their shoulders,” Ashland coach Scott Ingram said. “Those kids have been lights-out.”
As for winning a game while being held hitless, Ingram called it a first in his five years coaching the Kittens. However, it happened against Ashland this season during their trip to Myrtle Beach. Haney no-hit Frederick Douglass of Lexington in a 2-0 loss.
“Maybe this is retribution for it,” Ingram said.
And maybe it was a good omen for Ingram when his truck failed to start earlier Saturday. The same thing happened prior to Ashland’s 2-1 regional semifinal win over Rowan County last Monday.
“The last time it was a dead battery,” he said. “I got a new one. Now I think it’s the alternator. I either need to trade it in or get it totally fixed.”
As long as the Kittens keep winning, Ingram doesn’t seem overly concerned.
Akers, coming off an MVP performance in the 16th Region Tournament, limited Johnson Central to three hits. The Kittens didn’t allow a runner past second base in snapping the Lady Eagles’ 10-game winning streak. They lost only once in May.
Jaden Bowling singled to open the seventh inning for the 15th Region champs, but Akers retired the next three batters beginning with a strikeout.
“She was definitely good,” second-year Johnson Central coach Joey Estep said. “She moved the ball inside and out, using the corners of the plate. That kept our hitters guessing.”
Akers needed to stay sharp to match her counterpart. VanHoose, a sophomore, also rang up nine strikeouts to give her 234 in 164 innings this season.
“I felt like I did pretty good,” VanHoose said. “I knew I had to come out and pitch strikes. The screwball, curve and rise ball were working.”
Seven of her strikeouts came against the top third of the Kittens’ lineup.
“It seems like Chloe was most focused against them,” Estep said. “She couldn’t have done any more. We just weren’t able to get it done offensively.”
Three walks and a pivotal Johnson Central throwing error accounted for Ashland’s only base runners.
Akers drew a pass leading off the bottom of the second inning. With one out, courtesy runner Katie Crouch raced around to third base on a wild throw across the diamond after Haney’s ground ball to third. Camryn Cassidy’s bunt just inside the first-base line enabled Crouch to score.
“Great bunt,” Ingram said. “Camryn did her job. She put it down in the right place.”
Akers issued two walks — both in the fifth inning — as the Lady Eagles threatened with one out. Akers responded with a strikeout, then lefty-swinging Claire Gambill slapped a ball the opposite way over the left side of Ashland’s infield. But drawn-in left fielder Taylor Craft was waiting to make the catch.
“That was huge,” Akers said. “We’ve worked on slappers. I’m so proud of Taylor knowing where to set up.”
Chalk it up to an Ashland scouting trip to Floyd Central for the 15th Region finals.
“We went and watched them,” Ingram said. “That’s how we were going to play (her) in that kind of situation. All our outfielders were on the edge of the grass.”
Bowling singled twice and walked for Johnson Central (24-16). Alyssa Hedrick’s two-out double in the sixth accounted for the team’s other hit. Abby Fannin then grounded a ball up the middle, but second baseman Maddy Greene cut it off and threw on to first for the out.
Ashland played error-free and Akers said it took a total team effort to offset VanHoose’s performance.
“She’s a great pitcher with awesome spin,” Akers said. “I’m glad we could scratch across that one run and keep our season alive.”
J. CENTRAL 000 000 0 — 0 3 1
ASHLAND 010 000 x — 1 0 0
VanHoose and Hopson; Akers and Spears. W—Akers. L—VanHoose. 2B—Hedrick (JC).
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