16th Region softball draw: Bracket littered with cat contenders

·8 min read

May 20—MOREHEAD — Ashland drew into the other side of the 16th Region Tournament bracket from defending state semifinalist Lewis County and, by rule, 64th District companion Boyd County, which has beaten the Kittens three times, on Friday morning.

And Ashland matched up with East Carter, which it run-ruled five and a half weeks ago, in the quarterfinals.

That wasn't enough for Kittens coach Scott Ingram to call it a favorable draw — not even by a relative measure. Not with a pair of 25-or-more-win teams in that half of the bracket in East Carter and Bath County.

"It's not a one- or two-horse race," Ingram said. "It's gonna be a grind for sure, whoever wins it."

Lewis County does enter as an on-paper favorite, because of what the Lions return from last year's inaugural region title team and their undefeated mark this season in region play.

"We're definitely ready. This draw and this regional tournament's all exciting for me because it's a first for me," first-year Lewis County coach Chad Case said, "but my ladies have been there and they've been very successful. They know what it takes, and we've worked hard throughout this whole season to get to this point. We're ready to roll."

The tournament begins today at 11 a.m. at Morgan County's Joe Stacy Recreational Complex with Boyd County taking on tournament host Morgan County — in the field for the first time since 2010.

Lewis County and Rowan County are scheduled to meet at 1 p.m., followed by Bath County-Raceland at 3 p.m. and East Carter-Ashland at 5 p.m.

The semifinals are scheduled for Monday at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. The title game is Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

Boyd County (22-8) vs. Morgan County (15-14)The Lions run-ruled the Cougars, 17-0, on March 25 in a three-inning no-hitter.

Boyd County coach Dave Wheeler doesn't see that game meaning much in relation to this one.

"It was back in March, when everybody was trying to find an identity," Wheeler said. "I know they played a lot of people, and we were playing a lot of people."

Meanwhile, Eric Conley made sure that Friday evening was important to Morgan County.

The Cougars stuck around in Cannonsburg for some extra postgame infield practice before boarding the bus back to West Liberty, Conley said.

"We were a different team after that game," Conley said. "We had one of those 'this is a point that we're gonna have to turn our team around (meetings),' and I think the girls responded well."

Boyd County, champion of the 64th District, has played in three straight region tournament semifinals, while 62nd District runner-up Morgan County is in this event for the first time in 12 years.

The Lions have eight regulars batting .318 or better. Five hitters have 25 RBIs or more. Jaycie Goad has nine homers, 13 doubles and 34 RBIs. Sara Bays has six homers and 34 RBIs.

Bays is 13-6 in the circle, with a 3.24 ERA and 68 strikeouts. Kylie Thompson is 9-2 with 61 punchouts.

Five Cougars regulars are hitting .306 or better, led by Ally Smith's .564 mark and Jerrica Campbell's .549 output. Abby Hampton is 13-5 pitching, with 79 strikeouts.

Morgan County's last region tournament win was against Boyd County in 2004.

"It's certainly an uphill battle for us," Conley said, "but I think our girls are up to the challenge. We're gonna go out there and give it all we got."

Lewis County (28-5) vs. Rowan County (19-14)The Lions beat the Vikings, 15-1, on April 19 in Morehead.

"We had a really good game against Rowan," Case said. "It took us a few innings to get going. Rowan's got some really good young pitchers, and they've got a really good coach."

From 61st District runner-up Vikings coach Larry Slone's perspective, Rowan County got the toughest draw it possibly could have.

"It is what it is," he said. "(Lewis County is) obviously the preseason and postseason favorite, and they're very good. We'll try to come with all we got to give them the best game we can, and hopefully we can beat them."

Lewis County, the 63rd District champion, is 15-0 against region competition this season and has won its last 20 overall against region foes. The Lions were 17th in the final Kentucky Softball Coaches Association poll of the season.

Marshall commit Emily Cole paces Lewis County with an 0.75 ERA, a 27-3 record and 381 strikeouts in 187 innings. She's also hitting .554 with seven home runs.

Kayla Sullivan is batting .614 with seven homers, 19 doubles and 32 RBIs.

Rowan County has seven regulars hitting .315 or better. Haven Ford bats .518 with five homers and 21 RBIs. Lauryn Eastham is hitting .461 with 48 RBIs and 15 doubles. Hailey Middleton and Baileigh Caskey each have 37 RBIs.

Three Vikings have thrown more than 25 innings. Trinity Lambert is 8-5 with 83 strikeouts.

"We've been playing really well for three weeks and been doing a lot of good things," Slone said. "Unfortunately, a pitcher like (Cole) can shut you down to the point where if she were to get 12 to 18 strikeouts, you're very limited in what you're gonna be able to do. That's a possibility with her."

Bath County (29-8) vs. Raceland (13-18)Playing in big games and expecting to win them has become commonplace for the Wildcats. Kenny Williams remembers when that wasn't the case.

"(The players') history is only 14, 15, 16 years. Mine's 50," Williams, a 1991 Bath County graduate, said. "And I told them yesterday, I never got the opportunity to play in a regional tournament. We were in the 40th District back in the day, and we had Clark and Montgomery and Estill, and we got beat up on in basketball and baseball.

"To them, this is just, like, what's supposed to happen, and I guess for us, that's a good thing."

The Rams have the same philosophy, even though a generally inexperienced team this year has had to work to get back to that level.

"I think where we met the goals that we set at the beginning of the year, that's important," Raceland coach Destiny Goins said, "and that they will carry that momentum into the regional tournament. I think they want to come out and make a statement, so hopefully they can carry that into (today)."

Bath County, which has its most victories in a single season in program history, has won nine of 10, culminating in the 61st District title.

Seven Wildcats regulars are hitting .327 or better, and six have 28 RBIs or more. Ashlee Rogers has driven in 64 runs with 11 home runs. Taylor Hodson has six dingers and 34 RBIs and is hitting .453. Diamond Wills has scored 58 runs.

Kirsten Vice has a 2.83 ERA and 199 strikeouts over 207 2-3 innings. She's 28-8.

Kaitlin Kartchner leads Raceland, runner-up in the 63rd District, with a .420 average. Reagan Mackie has driven in 35 runs and homered four times with a .343 average.

Davanna Grubb owns a 2.80 ERA in 112 1-3 innings. Makenzie Bradley has worked 75 frames in the circle for the 16th Region All "A" Classic champions.

The Rams and Wildcats haven't met this season.

East Carter (25-6) vs. Ashland (10-19)The Kittens beat the Raiders, 11-1, on April 12, but Ingram and East Carter coach Derek Calhoun both mentioned that date fell during a collective Raiders battle with the flu.

"We're a little bit different team now, I think, than we were," Calhoun said. "But we're not gonna make excuses. (Ashland is) a good ball team. We're gonna have to come ready to play."

East Carter is looking for its first region tournament win since 2018, when Montana Fouts and company took the Raiders to the state semifinals. Calhoun expects the experience of playing in the region tournament last year will help the youthful 62nd District champions this time, he said.

Nine Raiders regulars are hitting .323 or better. Audrey Manning leads the way, batting .500, with 13 doubles and 31 RBIs. Karsen Prichard bats .461 with 32 RBIs. Trina Porter has 32 RBIs.

Stephany Tussey is 19-3 with 141 punchouts in 139 innings and a 1.91 ERA.

The Kittens, runners-up in the 64th District, have won three of four on the heels of a 4-18 midseason stretch.

"It took us a while to get to fourth or fifth gear," Ingram said, "but I think we're starting to finally figure it out."

Ashland has played in 10 of the last 12 region finals, but only two Kittens who competed in last year's title-game loss to Lewis County are likely to take the field today, due to graduation and injuries.

Five Kittens regulars are hitting .312 or better. Jada Erwin is batting .426 with 22 RBIs. She's also thrown 115 1-3 innings. Katie Samuel has pitched 61 2-3 frames with a 2.27 ERA.

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