CANNONSBURG Ashland softball skipper Scott Ingram compared his Kittens’ plate production Monday night to that of his recent vehicle trouble.
“I stopped to get a drink and my battery light had come on yesterday,” Ingram said. “I stopped and turned off my truck today and come back out and it was dead. I had to get a jump. I thought I was going to have to go get those booster cables for our offense tonight, but we had just enough.”
Ashland did indeed just have enough to escape Rowan County’s upset bid in the seventh with a 2-1 win in the 16th Region semifinals at Boyd County High School.
Ingram, however, did have a spark in his lineup in Lauren Spears. She jumpstarted the Ashland offense in the first at-bat of the night.
After Spears received a reprieve from a pop fly behind the plate that fell off the catcher’s mitt, she was not about to waste a second opportunity. Spears smashed the next pitch to deep center field for a lead-off home run and a 1-0 lead.
“I didn’t have a good first at-bat Saturday and I was just looking for a base hit,” Spears said. “I got lucky because the catcher dropped the ball, so I was like, OK, Lauren, let’s hit the ball up the middle now, and I did. Once they basically give you a second chance, you have to take it because you should’ve been out. I guess I took it the right way.”
It was more of a defensive night for Ashland behind Mykayla Akers’ 12-strikeout performance and three highlight-reel plays that pushed the 64th District runners-up back into a region championship game for the first time since 2017.
“Great overall team effort,” Ingram said. “Would certainly have liked to have scored some more, but at the end of the day, we had just a little more than (Rowan).”
Akers was on cruise control through the first three frames as the senior faced the minimum while fanning six of the nine batters she faced — all looking. But a leadoff error to open the fourth put Haven Ford on base. Ford later scored on a two-out RBI single by Lexi Morris to tie the contest at 1-1.
Akers said the Lady Vikings’ first hit reminded her of the approach she needed to have.
“It refocused me,” Akers said. “That one run, did I want it to happen? No, but that’s just how ball works sometimes. They score the run and I just had to think, rear-view mirror. It’s on to the next batter. The run has already scored. I can’t go back and take it back. You just have to go out there and attack the next one.”
Ashland regained the lead in the fifth after a Kaythan Baer single and three consecutive walks brought Baer to the plate for a 2-1 Ashland lead.
Akers fanned the first two batters to open the home fifth to run her total to 10 strikeouts, but a two-out walk put the tying run aboard. However, the Kittens’ defensive highlight show was just getting started.
Bethany Sergent tried slapping a ball down for a hit but lifted it directly behind the plate. Spears popped from her crouch and made the grab to end the inning.
“We needed to find an out and she gave us an out,” Spears said. “I knew I had to make that catch for Mykayla because she threw her heart out tonight.”
Then came the sixth and a leadoff single by Ford, a sacrifice bunt by Emily Hammonds and Macy Jones getting plunked. All of that put the tying run at second with Morris at the plate. Morris sent a blazing grounder down the line at third toward Paholsky, who was not certain if she had made the grab.
“Honestly, I didn’t think I had it,” Paholsky said. “I heard my shortstop say ‘Touch three,’ so I touched three and just hoped (the ball) was there, and it was.”
On a blooper to center by Bailey Trent, Camryn Cassidy tried to make a diving catch but missed in the seventh. However, the runner did not break toward second, which allowed Cassidy a chance to throw to second from her knees, a low throw in the dirt that second baseman Maddy Greene picked out of the dirt for the out.
“Ruthie Paholsky made a great play over there at third,” Ingram said. “Maddy Greene made a great play at second, but Cam Cassidy first, staying with it and not losing her mind to get the force out.”
What followed was another pair of Akers strikeouts for her 11th and 12th of the night to secure the win.
Raceland is looking for its first ever regional championship while Ashland will play for its eighth trip to the state tournament.
ASHLAND 100 010 0 — 2 6 1
ROWAN CO. 000 100 0 — 1 2 0
Akers and Spears; Jones and Ward. W—Akers. L—Jones. HR—Spears (A).