Russell locks up top seed



FLATWOODS After giving up 14 runs in a district defeat to Greenup County seven days ago, Russell took a different path in the rematch.

The Lady Devils relented just five runs this time around as they found the right “Layne” on the road to victory.

Haven Layne finished off a stellar week in the circle with a complete-game performance against the Lady Musketeers. Russell secured the No.

1 seed in the 63rd District Tournament with a 11-5 win at the Russell Softball Complex on Thursday night.

Layne picked up wins in relief over rival opponents Ashland and Raceland, then went the distance against Greenup County in the last four days. The sophomore said she went into the week with a new frame of mind after a few setbacks earlier this season.

“I worked on my mentality in each game,” Layne said.

“I’ve been in a slump, but I have worked out of it and built some confidence.”

Russell coach Dave Wheeler said he has plenty of confidence in his young hurler. After holding off the Lady Rams on Tuesday, Wheeler had no doubts as to whom he would give the ball to nail down the top spot in the district.

“She has gone through some growing pains with her pitching,” Wheeler said.

“You are going to go through some stretches. You have to go back to your basics and believe in what you got. This week, she has come out and won three really big ball games. I don’t hesitate with her because I trust her stuff.

“Haven battled to come out with a win (against Raceland) and as soon as the game was over I told her, ‘You have Thursday with the No. 1 seed on the line.’ She showed up today.”

Layne gave herself an early cushion with a two-run single in the opening frame. Annalee Miller drew an 11-pitch walk to begin scoring rally.

Sara Hieneman also forced a base on balls and Alexis Maynard dropped in a single to load the bases. Russell scored another on a wild pitch to take a 3-0 lead.

Greenup County (8-9) got on the board with a tally on a groundout in the third before Russell posted five runs in the fifth frame to open up a seven-run lead.

“With a team like Russell, you can’t give them some of the runs that we gave them early in the ball game with some errors,” Greenup County coach Eric Keeton said.

“We had a couple of plays to get us out of an inning and save a few runs. We kept battling. You have to make plays and you have to hit your spots pitching. We you don’t, it hurts you.”

The first five Russell batters reached safely in the fifth. Hieneman smacked a no-doubter over the fence for a two-run homer. Makayla Fraley had an RBI double and Layne drove in another with a single.

“Each kid has different keys to make them successful in the batter’s box,” Wheeler said. “… We have quality at-bats. We don’t put pressure on them. I tell them that you’re not going to get a hit every time, but you can have quality at-bats every time. That is what we look for.”

Russell (20-6) has scored 306 runs so far this season.

That run support can put a pitcher more at ease.

“I love that my team helps me out hitting the ball,” Layne said. “It makes it much easier in the circle.”

McKenzie Crosier singled and Shelbie Watkins walked to start the Greenup County sixth. Laykin Tolliver followed with a three-run blast to cut the Lady Musketeers’ deficit in half.

“She has gotten healthy,” Keeton said of Tolliver. “Last year she battled a lot of ankle injuries. She didn’t get to play the field a lot. She is more into the game this year. She plays first base and has been swinging the bat really well.”

The next batter sent a screaming fly ball into the gap in left-center field. Madison Darnell found the angle and made the catch on the run to halt a potential Greenup County rally.

“That is why Madison plays center field,” Wheeler said. “It’s her athletic ability. She is a gazelle out there.

When she runs, she doesn’t look that fast, but her strides are two compared to everyone else’s one.”

Russell added three more runs in the sixth to put the game away. Fraley and Layne recorded RBI singles and Hartman sent home another with a sacrifice fly.

The Lady Devils finish district seeding play at 5-1.

Greenup County falls to 3-2.

Russell will host the 63rd District Tournament.

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