16th Region softball preview: A roll of the dice: Talented field hopes to find winning combination

ASHLAND When the dice emerged from the pill bottle, Ashland coach Scott Ingram already had a feeling about the result before it was announced.

The skipper even let his athletic director take his turn at drawing out a number, perhaps to shake things up.

No dice.

East Carter will play the Kittens for a third consecutive year to open the 16th Region Tournament after the bracket was finalized in the Ashland Blazer High School library on Saturday.

The respected opponents know a great deal about the other and they have taken turns ending the other club’s season. The Raiders won in 2022 and Ashland returned the favor in 2023.

Both want to reclaim a region title after the two schools had stretch from 2009 to 2019 where one of the two teams hoisted a championship trophy.

“It’s what they were talking about when East Carter left,” Ingram said with a grin. “This is the rubber match. We responded at practice in the way I thought we would on Thursday (after falling to Boyd County in the 64th District final). The same way we’ve responded all year. Obviously, it was a tough loss and it was a game we didn’t want to lose. They came out with great attitudes. We are looking forward to the challenge and the rubber match.”

East Carter has the most wins against region competition this year. Coach Derek Calhoun feels you have to come ready to play because of the depth of talent in the field this week.

“Scott said it best,” Calhoun said. “We’ve played (Ashland) the last three years. It doesn’t matter. When you get to this point, our region is so widespread on talent. It’s going to be whoever is playing their best softball starting on Monday. It could be any of the eight teams in it this year.”

Bath County vs. Greenup County, Today, 11 a.m.Bath County coach Kenny Williams has seen his script before as well. The Wildcats will open the festivities again this week. It’s become a familiar spot for them in the bracket.

“My wife rolled up with us today and said ‘I want that late game,’” Bath County coach Kenny Williams said. “I want the first one. The field isn’t torn up yet or you’re not waiting for another game to get done. There’s an advantage in that but it doesn’t always work out for us.”

The 61st District champions made a deep run in the Kentucky 2A championship, making it to the state semifinals. Bath County (26-8) defeated the defending region champion, Rowan County in the district final and will use both to keep their title hopes alive.

Kylee Hodson won 21 of her 28 starts his season. She fanned 133 batters. Ashtyn Barrett (.483) and Taylor Hodson (.513) still swing a big stick for the Wildcats. Barrett has 22 extra-base hits, including nine dingers, and has knocked in 33 runs. Hodson added 12 doubles and 39 RBIs.

No one has shown a bigger bat than Greenup County’s Skyler Lawrence. The senior belted her 13th homer of the year in the 64th District final on Saturday. Lawrence drove in 47 runs and Musketeers teammate Maddy Steele has five homers and 45 RBIs.

Greenup County (20-9) will appear in its first region tournament since 2014. The team won’t have to wait long to savor the experience but they are playing with one goal in mind.

“They really want it,” Holmes said. “I really don’t have to give them a message because they really want (a region title).”

“We are going to attack it like it’s any other game,” she added. “We want to go in with the ‘We not me’ mindset and get it going.”

Williams acknowledged Greenup County’s great season and knows it will be a tough out after they battled their way through a strong 63rd District. The Wildcats will lean on their veteran group.

“They know what they do and they’ve been through the battles,” Williams said. “They know the bus ride will be about an hour and 10 minutes. It will just be like a normal game.”

“Everybody is a good team,” he added. “The 63rd is a tough district. … We are going to approach like every other game and see what happens.”

East Carter vs. Ashland, Today, 1 p.m.East Carter (25-6) brings plenty of offense this week with a team batting average of .432. Payton Rice (.532), Shelby Felty (.490) and Trina Porter (.449) have posted big numbers this year. The trio has a combined 11 home runs. Rice has 16 doubles and Porter has plated 48 runs.

The pitching staff could be the ticket to securing a title later this week. Stephany Tussey, Laken Knipp and Rice have each showcased their tools in the circle. Rice has 101 punchouts, Tussey sports a 2.99 ERA and Knipp has made four appearances and won them all.

“They do an excellent job for us,” Calhoun said. “They bring different elements to the game. Payton is a power pitcher and Stephany has more movement on her stuff. Laken Knipp has come in and pitched some strong innings. She had a really good game against Greenup County.”

Brookelyn Duckwyler (.434) anchors the Ashland (15-16) lineup from the top and Grace and Jenna Delaney add speed and power early in the order. Addi Laine has experience in the circle. The Kittens will play region tournament hosts this week.

“It has to be some kind of advantage,” Ingram said. “It didn’t help us in the district. You still have to come in and play well. As far as normalcy, we won’t have a bus ride or anything like that. But once that first pitch is thrown, the advantage stops.”

Raceland vs. Rowan County, Today, 3 p.m.Last year, Rowan County and Raceland met in the first round of the region tournament and the result had a ripple effect that was felt all the way to the state semifinals.

The Vikings won that contest before taking the region crown and making a run in the state tournament.

This year, Raceland (28-9) coach Scott Adkins is hoping for a better result for his team but understands how formidable Rowan County can be.

“You have to play them sometime,” Adkins said. “So, let’s lace them up and play. They got the better of us last year, and they’re a very good team this year.”

As for Rowan County, this year’s team looks a little different than last year.

Shortstop Haven Ford and legendary coach Larry Slone are gone.

But that’s nothing this year’s team is hanging its head about. The 24-8 team boasts a talented core of young players who have played on the big stage.

“Not having Haven this year, that was obviously a really big part of our team gone,” Rowan County coach Kaitlyn Muncy said. “So, the first half of the year we were kind of trying to adjust to life without her at shortstop, but we’ve had kids step up, take on new roles, and I think they’re ready to go. We have a young team… but they’re resilient and up for anything.”

One of those young players is standout sophomore pitcher Trinity Lambert, who helped lead the team as a freshman in the state tournament.

“Everybody told her back then that she had ice water in her veins,” Muncy said. “She’s done the same exact thing this year. She never shows emotion on her face. She just goes out and tries her best to get the job done.”

The matchup with the Rams could be a pitcher’s duel as Raceland brings Davanna Grubb to the circle to command the game.

“We have to stand up behind Davanna and just play our game,” Adkins said. “We have to hit the ball, make plays, and hopefully we’ll come out on top.”

Grubb enters today’s contest with a 2.10 ERA compared to Lambert’s 2.66. Kali Vance’s .500 batting average and 11 home runs lead the Rams. Malana Hamm totes a .459 average and Lauryn Eastham has knocked in 38 runs for the Vikings.

The two teams faced off to begin the season with Raceland coming out on top 6-1.

Boyd County vs. Elliott County, Today, 5 p.m.Rounding out the first round will be the 64th District champion Boyd County meeting the runners-up from the 62nd District Elliott County (19-14).

“They’re a good team,” Boyd County coach Lance Seasor said of Elliott County. “We’re going to have to come ready to play this time of year. You can’t take anybody lightly. It doesn’t matter who you draw, if you’re going to win it, you have to go through everybody.”

Boyd County enters the postseason with a 19-17 record but looks to be peaking at the right time after some early struggles.

“In the last two weeks we really kind of turned a corner,” Seasor said. “We seem to be having fun, making smart plays, pitching well, and our hitting is coming around. I think this is the right time for us to go into postseason play. If we can continue our momentum, I think we’ll do okay.”

Jaycie Goad (.402 average, eight home runs, 33 RBIs) and Elyn Simpkins, (.402 average, 92 strikeouts in the circle) have helped the Lions regain their roar late in the season. Savanna Henderson added 32 RBIs.

Hanah McDaniel has recorded a .475 average and 16 doubles this year for the Lions from Sandy Hook.

The two teams have not met this year, but did play last year on March 23 where Boyd County won 20-1 in five innings.