BY ZACK KLEMME
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
FLATWOODS Russell honored its seniors prior to Wednesday’s game against Ashland, but a total team effort let the Lady Devils send off their three seniors right on Senior Night.
Sophomore Haven Layne pitched a four-hitter, homered and drove in three runs, junior Ali Hartman hit a three-run dinger, and Russell got sparkling defensive plays and extra-base hits from all over in a 10-1 toppling of the Kittens.
By the time senior Sara Hieneman provided closing punctuation with her 33rd career home run — tops in school history, third in the 16th Region record books and 10th alltime in Kentucky — the Lady Devils had emphatically ended a seasonworst skid of three losses in four games. The last was a run-rule setback at East Carter in which Russell was no-hit by Montana Fouts on Monday.
“We rebounded well,” Lady Devils coach Dave Wheeler said. “(Fouts) throws 68 miles an hour ... I don’t know if we’ve got anybody in our district that drives 68 miles an hour, much less throws it. You gotta make adjustments, and we got some confidence today.”
Layne got the Lady Devils going in the second inning with a homer to left to plate Makayla Fraley, who had doubled.
“Haven comes up and spots us two on a home run,” Wheeler said. “It’s big, it takes pressure off the defense, takes pressure off the seniors, takes pressure off her, and once you get a lead, you want to just keep building on it.”
Fraley helped preserve that lead in the top of the fourth. Ashland had runners at second and third base with one out when the sophomore shortstop snagged a liner and put away a high popout.
Layne added an RBI single in the home half of the inning. Camryn Ratliff worked a basesloaded walk and Grace Osborn’s fielder’s choice tallied another run.
Ashland’s Sidney Campbell got a run back with a fifth-inning RBI single, but Hartman parked a three-run shot just inside the left-field foul pole in the fifth and Hieneman did her thing with a runner aboard in the sixth.
“Sara’s hit quite a few of ’em,” Wheeler said of Hieneman’s long-ball lore. “First couple atbats, she might have been stressing a little bit, she might have been chasing some pitches out of the zone, but she relaxed there and got a pitch she could handle, and she barrelled it really well and it got out of here.”
Layne went the distance in the circle. She struck out only two Kittens, but utilized her teammates in the field.
The Lady Devils (23-9), for the most part, rewarded her trust. Osborn came up firing from right field to throw out a runner at first base in the first inning and made a running catch in foul territory in the sixth. Senior second baseman Annalee Miller made a quick flip to first base to beat a runner by a step and end the first frame, and Fraley turned an unassisted double play in the seventh to conclude the game.
“You gotta trust your defense behind you and just pitch,” Layne said. “It makes it a lot easier. I love that I can trust my defense behind me.”
Twenty-two of the Kittens’ 24 official at-bats resulted in balls put in play. But Ashland didn’t get much to show for it, continuing a pattern of inconsistency, said coach Scott Ingram.
“That’s the answer I’ve been looking for all year,” Ingram said, “because we play like champs one day and come out and don’t really do it the next game. When you get to (region) tournament time, you gotta win three in a row, so we gotta figure that out, and we gotta do it in a hurry.”
Mykayla Akers started and took the decision for the Kittens (10-19). She lasted 3 1/3 innings. Ingram said she was sick and had “two or three shots” earlier in the day.
“Look, I’m not making excuses,” Ingram said. “It is what it is. But (Akers) ran out of gas, and then we put (reliever Kenzi) Robinson in a tough spot. Give (Russell) credit.”
Hieneman made her mark with the bat, Miller asserted herself in the field and senior Alexis Maynard roped a double in the sixth inning and handled defensive duties at first base. Wheeler credited their softball abilities and their character.
“When their senior year starts winding down, then you got a lot of distractions with graduation and senior breakfast, and all that,” he said, “but they stayed focused, and I couldn’t ask for three better seniors to be leaders on the team.”
ASHLAND 000010 0—141 RUSSELL 020332X—1083 Akers, Robinson (4) and Campbell; Layne and Ratliff. W—Layne. L—Akers. 2B—Maynard (R), Fraley (R). HR—Hieneman (R), Layne (R), Hartman (R).
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