BY ZACK KLEMME
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
Dave Wheeler, Scott Ingram and Eric Keeton are ready to see their softball teams get it cranked up, with an eye toward postseason play.
Their three programs will cohost an event they expect to provide stout enough competition to do exactly that.
Greenup County joins Russell and Ashland as hosts of the second Tri-State Softball Showcase. First pitches will be delivered simultaneously in Flatwoods, Ashland and Lloyd at 5:30 p.m. on Friday.
This year’s edition features three teams that have garnered top-25 national rankings from MaxPreps, four squads mentioned in the Kentucky coaches’ poll, and three topfive clubs from West Virginia.
“People aren’t gonna waste their time with coming to something on a weekend that they’re gonna get three mercy-rule games,” Kittens coach Ingram said. “Your better teams want to play better competition. We’re all wanting to size ourselves up this time of year ... and they know they can do it at this event.”
East Carter and East Jessamine join the Lady Devils and Kittens as returnees to the field. The Lady Musketeers, Boyd County and Fleming County also represent the 16th Region in their maiden voyage in this showcase.
Boyle County makes the trip from the 12th Region, along with the Lady Jaguars. Huntington, Hurricane and Cabell Midland visit from the Mountain State and Lucasville Valley rounds out the field from the Buckeye State.
The Highlanders are rated 13th in MaxPreps’ Xcellent 25 nationally. The Lady Raiders and Lady Redskins were tabbed in that poll last week.
East Jessamine, the first team to beat East Carter last season in the first round of the state tournament, was rated 25th in the Kentucky coaches’ poll on April 9. The Lady Raiders were sixth while the Kittens, Fleming County and Russell also received votes.
Wheeler, who Ingram credited as the pioneer of the event, invited Keeton and Greenup County to come on board to help host and expand the showcase. Russell’s coach hopes to see that continue.
“As long as we can keep bringing quality programs in from outside, it’s a good setup ... here in the next couple years, hopefully we can expand it to another facility,” Wheeler said. “We have a very good product here in our area. We have nice facilities, nice programs, and it’s really beneficial to where we don’t have to get on a school bus and drive two hours and stay all night and play (to find good opposition).”
Ashland, Russell and Greenup County’s standing as rivals hasn’t impacted their ability to work together in hosting, Wheeler said.
“Your rivalries are on the ball field. We’re partners in the community,” Wheeler said. “I hope all the local teams that are participating in the showcase win every game they play, unless they’re playing us. I’m sure Scott thinks the same way, and Eric does, too.”
Russell is 13-3 and Ashland sits 5-9. Greenup County (3-4) has only gotten in seven games, a victim of three rainouts, Keeton said.
He’s looking for his team to build consistency with field time this weekend, and also participate in a solid showcase.
“It’s also bringing in teams from other parts of the state to see the type of softball that we play here in the 16th Region, and hopefully get some of our girls recognition,” Keeton said.
Admission is $5 per day for adults and $3 for students. Tickets are good for all day no matter the site with a ticket stub.
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Russell second baseman Annalee Miller sets to throw out a runner during a win over Wayne earlier this season.
KEVIN GOLDY | THE DAILY INDEPENDENT