CANNONSBURG The first three innings between Ashland and Lewis County Saturday night in the opening round of the 16th Region softball tournament was a pitcher’s duel at its best.
Ashland managed only one hit over the first three frames. Lewis County had two as the contest appeared destined for a low-scoring outcome.
Looks were certainly deceiving.
Ashland exploded for 10 runs on nine hits in the final two innings as the Kittens thrashed the Lady Lions, 10-0, in five innings. Mykayla Akers provided the first runs of the night behind a two-run shot that just cleared the top of the fence cap in right center field.
“I was thinking it was going to go, but it didn’t have a lot of height to it, so I wasn’t certain it was going to make it until I saw it go over the fence,” Akers said. “But as soon as I saw it get over, I screamed, ‘Let’s go!’ I’ve never done that before, but I was really excited. I mean, it’s the regional tournament.”
Following a Ruthie Paholsky one-out single, Akers hacked at the first pitch she saw in the at-bat in a much different approach than one might think of taking in an elimination game.
“Scott has really been working with me to just go up and think it’s just like BP,” Akers said of Ashland coach Scott Ingram. “I got out the first time and I didn’t let it affect me and I just said, ‘It’s only BP and I’m just going to go up there and swing like I know how to.’”
Added Akers: “There’s no words to explain how amazing that felt. You’re in the regional tournament and as a senior, you know you are possibly playing your last high school game.”
What followed was an eight-run fifth by the Kittens, all coming with two outs in the stanza.
“I love two-out runs,” Ingram said. “We preach that all the time that the inning isn’t over just because there’s two outs. I would’ve taken two or three there. But eight, man that’s gravy. I don’t think the fifth happens without what (Akers) does in the fourth.”
But hitting was not the only thing Akers did well in the win as she also earned the save in relief of starter Haylie Haney. Haney was lifted in the fourth with one out and the bases full of Lady Lions. Akers fanned Sarah Paige Weddington for the second out of the inning and induced a Hailey Evans groundout to second to end the stanza as Lewis left the bases full.
“Haylie pitched a really strong four innings,” Ingram said. “I think she was getting a little gassed and frustrated with the zone. I just felt like it was a good time to make the move. Mykayla coming in and doing that just propelled us a little more.”
“I went out there with a cool, calm and collected mindset,” Akers said. “It’s how I’m trying to work the regional tournament this year — cool, calm and collected. I definitely had some intensity or momentum going into the circle. I try to not let pressure situations like that bother me. I took a deep breath and just went after the batter. I knew I had my defense behind me. If a strikeout happens, a strikeout happens. If a pop-up happens, a pop-up happens.”
As the senior led, a freshman followed in Kaythan Baer from the eight-hole of the Kittens’ lineup. Baer went 3 for 3 with the first hit in the eight-run fifth being her second single of the night. She followed with an RBI triple for the final hit in the frame.
“When you can get production from 7-8-9 like that — like we have been a lot of the year — it changes your whole lineup,” Ingram said of Baer. “She had an outstanding night. The kid doesn’t play like a freshman. She’s just done an amazing ever since she has gotten into the lineup.”
Baer said she was just happy to come through in a big moment.
“To be a freshman and be doing this is such a great feeling,” she said. “Getting it started for my team was awesome.”
Lewis County (22-11) worked a pair of runners on base in the fifth behind a pair of walks, but Akers combatted with three strikeouts to secure the win.
Ashland (22-11) will meet Rowan County on Monday at 7 p.m. in the regional semifinals.
ASHLAND 000 28 — 10 10 1
LEWIS CO. 000 00 — 0 3 2
Haney, Akers (4) and Spears; Cole and Sizemore. W—Haney. L—Cole. Sv—Akers. 2B—Spears (A). 3B—Baer (A). HR—Akers (A).