PRESTONSBURG All three northeastern Kentucky Little League All-Stars had a joyous Tuesday night on the diamond.
Russell-Flatwoods 12U All-Stars survived a nailbiter, Ashland 11U put itself in a solid position and Ashland 10U discovered its offense.
Russell manager Chris Mokas’ bunch locked into a tight pitchers’ duel with Corbin. It was a 0-0 contest until Corbin plated one in the sixth to put pressure on Russell.
Russell responded in the bottom of the sixth after its leadoff batter struck out. Elijah Hankins was plunked by a pitch, Connor Thacker drew a walk and Landon Stapleton recorded a hit up the middle. Hankins scored on a wild pitch to set the stage for Landyn Goodall. Mokas and fellow coaches wanted Goodall to send a sharply struck ball to the right side. He delivered by hitting it to the first baseman, who tried to nail pinch-runner Jared Whitt at home to no avail. Russell won, 2-1.
“I’m really proud of the boys,” Mokas said. “It’s the second time in three years this group has been to the final four, and it’s just a special group of kids.”
Thacker and Jayden Frasure pitched for Russell. Thacker fanned 10 batters, walked three and allowed zero hits over 5 1-3 innings.
“Corbin’s first kid threw off-speed, and we hit it, but we hit it right to them,” Mokas said. “Then they brought in their big pitcher. He was throwing hard. Their pitcher was really good, but our pitcher was even better.”
Russell will meet Bowling Green today at 5:30 p.m. in the semifinals. Lexington and Washington County are the other two semifinalists.
Ashland 10U manager Rob Lynch had been pleading with his kids to swing the bats with confidence. After struggling at the dish for two games, Ashland brought the sticks in the final game of pool play, beating Letcher County, 11-1, in four innings.
Pitcher Aiden Pemberton dealt a no-hitter in front of surehanded defense.
“He only threw 51 or 52 pitches, and pitched well,” Lynch said. “He had some strikeouts, but they played defense behind him. We didn’t have any errors.”
Letcher County scored its lone run because of walks.
Lynch said Ashland had a good batting-practice session on Monday, when its scheduled game was rained out. Then, he wanted the kids to forget about baseball for a little while.
“I texted all the parents and said, don’t mention a thing about baseball on the way to Prestonsburg,” Lynch said. “I just told them, nothing but positive vibes. Let’s see if we can change this mental block at the plate.”
The strategy worked as Ashland collected 11 hits.
After achieving a 2-1 record in pool play, Ashland will now face Lexington Eastern today at 7:30 in the semifinals. The matchup will feature a couple of Lynches — Jax (Lexington Eastern) vs. River (Ashland). For Ashland folks, they’ll likely recognize them as Dale and Bob Lynch’s grandsons, respectively.
Ashland 11U toppled Prestonsburg, 8-3. The All-Stars will conclude pool play today against Owensboro. As of 10 p.m., manager Don Ashby wasn’t sure if it would be a must-win. He was certainly pleased with Tuesday’s triumph.
“We were aggressive at the plate early, but we had to overcome sloppy baserunning,” Ashby said. “When I look back at it, we should’ve beaten them in four or five (innings), probably, but you’ll have that.”
Jonah Arnett pitched for Ashland.
“He threw strikes,” Ashby said. “We played solid defense. Sam Lyons had a diving catch in left field. When you play solid defense and throw strikes in Little League baseball, you’re probably going to win.”
Ashland turned a 4-1 game into an 8-1 advantage with a four-run fifth. Brady Marushi and Maverick Ashby played pivotal roles in the frame.
“It was a team effort,” Ashby said. “Grant Slater hit the ball well. Will Suman’s swinging a hot bat. Baker Sutton came in and had a hit. It was spread out. Everybody was locked in at the plate.”
Isaac Leeper and Arnett are the only two arms not available for today’s game.