The Kittens know how to stay stress-free: Get out to a huge first-half lead and never look back.
They gritted their teeth and delivered yet another impressive early-season win on Friday night. Ashland was a 60-47 winner in a battle between the 16th Region’s only two undefeated teams at Anderson Gym.
The Kittens’ defense clamped down on East Carter to turn an 8-8 tie into a gaping 22-9 margin in a matter of six-plus first-half minutes.
The Lady Raiders went from the 3:12-mark in the first quarter to 4:52 in the second without a field goal.
“(Defense has) carried us so far in our first five games and hopefully that doesn’t change,” said Ashland coach Bill Bradley. “Our team defense is probably the best we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Early in Ashland’s season-long bid at repeating region dominance, that’s saying a lot. The Kittens didn’t lose a game within the region a year ago en route to a State Tournament appearance. Haley Sue Foutch, for one, would love to make a return trip.
“We kinda wanted to send the message that we’re still going to be there (in the end),” Foutch said. “We’re trying to get ready for State.”
Ashland (5-0) has beaten top-tier teams Boyd County and East Carter convincingly in the first three weeks.
The Kittens won their first three games by turning teams over. In the last two, they’ve held the Lady Lions and Lady Raiders to worse than 37 percent shooting.
Foutch credits their consistency to high-intensity practices.
“We work a lot on defense,” she said. “We like to keep it a fast-paced game and put pressure on (opponents).”
“Our top eight or nine or 10 are so even,” Bradley said. “We go at it pretty hard in practice. Our halfcourt (man-to-man) was good tonight — our halfcourt defense almost has to be better (than last season) because we lost power in the middle and speed.”
After Foutch put in a basket off a beautiful pass from point guard Alexis Robinson to polish off the first quarter, Alicia Gunter, Alex Young and Madison Jones entered to extend the damage in the second. Gunter nailed two 3-pointers in the period, while Young and Jones each hit from long range.
“In that second quarter, we played unbelievable against a good team,” Bradley said.
East Carter (4-1) hadn’t faced such a deficit yet this year. The Lady Raiders had been rolling past teams until Friday.
Lady Raiders coach Hager Easterling saw it coming after experiencing some ominous vibes this past week.
“Ashland’s combination of energy and defensive intensity, I don’t think it made us back off because we were already like that in a way, but it made it worse,” Easterling said. “We got out of kilter, played soft, handled the ball soft, weren’t ready to score ... I saw this all week in practice. It’s the first time since we started practice on Oct. 15 that I saw it.
“To be a champion you have to prepare like a champion,” added the veteran coach. “I hope our girls learned a hard lesson.”
Ashland regularly benefits from offensive balance, and Friday night was no different. Robinson led the team in scoring with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting. She also contributed seven rebounds and three assists.
Foutch tallied seven points and nine rebounds, six of which came in the first quarter.
Sydney Cullop came on strong late and ended up with 11 points.
Bradley pointed to Allie Slone’s and Kaylyn Gambill’s one-on-one defense against East Carter’s Bryana Greenhill and Megan Stickler as keys to the victory. The two combined for just 16 points on 14 shots.
Eighth-grader Kristen Mayo had 13 points to lead East Carter. Stickler added nine points and eight boards.
After trailing 25-11 in the second quarter, East Carter never cut the deficit closer than 14 until its final bucket trimmed the margin to 13.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2664.