BY MATTHEW SPARKS
FOR THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
ASHLAND Russell’s bats have heated up since its return from spring break, but it was some sizzling defensive plays that helped the Lady Devils extend their winning streak to nine on Tuesday night.
Grace Osborn and Krissy Hall each flashed some leather, keeping potential Ashland runs off the scoreboard. Russell took advantage of two costly Kitten errors to produce a run in the seventh inning and held on for a 5-4 win at the Ashland Softball Complex.
“I always knew we were a good defensive team,” Russell coach Terry Callihan said. “The problem is we go out with nerves and jitters and it makes us a lesser defensive team than we actually are. After as many games as we’ve played, we are starting to calm down and be more fundamentally sound.”
“We have some girls struggling in the (batter’s) box,” he added, “and their concentration is focused on their part in the field. Krissy Hall, wow, she made some major plays today. She had been struggling in the box, but I don’t think there is a better third baseman in the region today.”
Hall quelled an Ashland threat in the fifth with runners at first and second. She stabbed a hard ground ball, put her foot on the third-base bag and throwed a strike to first base for the double play.
In the seventh stanza, Hall adjusted to grab a tailing soft liner just before it connected with the dirt.
Osborn stretched to corral a ball deep in right field to end the third inning with a runner at third base. She experienced a similar feat in the following frame to extinguish the flame of another Kittens’ rally.
“In the beginning of the year, we looked at putting Grace in left field because we were thinking of pulling Madison (Darnell) to the infield,” Callihan said. “After serious consideration and watching film from last year, there is no doubt she is a right fielder. She is awesome.”
Meanwhile in the other dugout, Ashland’s defensive effort left coach Scott Ingram at a loss for words.
“It was awful,” Ingram said. ‘I don’t have any explanation.”
The Kittens committed five errors, but the final two allowed Russell to regain the lead. Osborn reached in the seventh inning after her bunt attempt to the pitcher. The throw was in the dirt and she continued on to second after Darnell’s infield single.
Makayla Fraley lined a single up the middle to load the bases. Haven Layne followed with a pop fly that carried to grass behind the left side of the infield. The umpires ruled that is wasn’t a routine fly ball so that took the infield-fly rule off the table. The attempted catch was mishandled, allowing Osborn to score the go-ahead run.
Russell (16-4) has averaged 10.8 runs during its winning streak, but it has also shown resiliency after finding ways to score late runs in victories over rivals Raceland, Greenup County and Ashland (10-10).
“The girls have their own motto, ‘Never quit, never give up,’ but my nickname for them is the Cardiac Kids. They keep you on edge all the time,” Callihan quipped. “It seems like only the coaches act a little nervous. The girls are always calm, cool and collected.”
The Lady Devils grabbed an early lead in the second inning. Ali Hartman scored on a throwing error and Rylie Cook produced an RBI single for a 2-0 advantage.
The Kittens answered right back in the third to get even. Ruthie Paholsky deposited a two-run homer to the road beyond the leftcenter field fence. It was her first dinger of the season.
“She hits it hard,” Ingram said. “It was just a matter of time before she hit one. We didn’t have enough of those. We have to be better defensively. Give them credit. They put some pressure on us, but we didn’t make plays.”
An Ashland miscue gave Russell another run in the fourth. The Lady Devils added another tally on a groundout.
The Kittens responded quickly with a two-run single by Zoë Ingram to tie the contest at 4-4 after the fourth stanza.
Layne settled in and gave up just one hit over the final three frames. She struck out seven to take the win in the circle.
Darnell was 2 for 4 at the plate for the Lady Devils. Paholsky had a 2-for-3 night for the Kittens.
The two teams meet again at Russell on Tuesday.
RUSSELL 020 200 1— 5 7 1 ASHLAND 002 200 0— 4 7 5 Layne and Ratliff. Haney and Spears. W— Layne. L—Haney. 2B—Osborn (R), Akers (A). HR—Paholsky (A).