64th District Baseball lookahead: Boyd aims to retain title

Apr. 1—Boyd County's seniors were roaming the hallways of area elementary schools the last time the Lions didn't win a 64th District Tournament.

It was 2016 — four years pre-COVID. Barack Obama was President. The Lions took titles from 2017-19 and 2021-23. COVID wiped out 2020.

The Lions have quickly emerged as the clear favorite to capture their seventh consecutive district title this May, but coach Frank Conley is thinking bigger — as in 16th Region crown. Boyd County is just two seasons separated from a state tournament appearance.

Ashland coach Shane Marushi is aiming just as high, too, even with a youthful roster.

Fairview's Cody Sammons hopes his Eagles can break through to the region tournament. The last time Fairview busted past the district tournament in the postseason was 2009 when the district was not seeded. Sammons, now 28, was an eighth-grader.

Entering Easter weekend, Fairview was 4-4.

Ashland was 0-6 as it departed the area for Myrtle Beach.

Boyd County's record stood at 7-1 as it made its journey to Vero Beach, Florida, for spring break.

Boyd County

Conley is a self-described "baseball guy." If there was any doubt, his quick reference to the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers' "Stunt Men" provides proof.

"The 'Stunt Men' did all the dirty work for that team," Conley said, referring to the Dodgers' role players' nickname in '88. "I've got a core group of guys who are stunt men. They keep our team going, make the engine turn. We wouldn't be where we are without them."

Some of the Lions' 'Stunt Men' are senior Parker Gibson, freshman Brody Biggs, junior Caleb Gray and sophomore Kaleb Kelley.

"I want to give those guys recognition; they push our guys to get better," Conley said.

As for the "bigger name" Lions, as Conley labeled them, three experienced players are off to red-hot starts at the plate.

Through seven statistic-recorded games, Ryan Brown, Brogan Jones, Peyton Jackson and Alex Martin all boasted batting averages better than .450.

Brown, an Ashland transfer, is splitting time with Martin as the team's two main shortstops. The senior was hitting .545 with only one strikeout in 22 at-bats prior to spring break. Martin, also a senior, was at .450 through 20 at-bats.

In the same time frame, Jones, a junior, was hitting .522 with a team-best 12 RBIs.

"Brogan is killing the ball," Conley said.

Jackson, a senior, is batting .458.

Both Jackson and Jones handle first-base duties. Jackson will be a prominent pitcher as well. Jones and Gray are the Lions' two primary catchers.

"They're doing a good job of shutting down the (opposing) running game," Conley said.

When Brown isn't at shortstop, he's typically at second base or on the mound. Sophomore Josh Kelley is playing some second and third base.

Sophomore Brayden Coleman started out handling the hot corner until he suffered an ankle injury. He will likely return by mid-April, Conley said.

Freshman Grant Slater and seniors JK McKnight, Jacob Vanover and Michael Potter are a few of Boyd County's outfield options.

McKnight, a dynamite left-hander on the bump, had not yet been cleared to pitch, but figures to foot the rubber in early April, according to his coach. He's been the Lions' top center-field choice so far.

Slater tossed five no-hit innings against Johnson Central. He had a 0.91 earned run average through 7 2/3 innings.

Biggs, a southpaw, had compiled a 3.00 ERA over his first seven frames of work.

Jackson's first seven innings were scoreless. He had already tallied two victories.

Senior Townes Young, sophomore Isaac Leeper, Brown, Josh and Kaleb Kelley, and Vanover had all logged time on the mound in March.

"We always try to get to spring break and we feel like we can grow as a team together down there and come back a better team," Conley said.


A quick glance at the Tomcats' roster reveals a glaring absence of seniority, but Marushi isn't interested in using inexperience as any sort of excuse.

"You don't have to look hard to see that we're very young, but you go through years like that," said the coach, who was an assistant for three seasons prior to taking the helm in 2023.

Zero seniors and four juniors are playing.

The Tomcats endured an at-times tumultuous offseason that saw a handful of transfers and a few decide to drop baseball from their plates.

"We wish everyone the best whatever route they decided to go, but we are focusing on these guys," Marushi said. "And these guys have been fantastic, from back to weightlifting and into the spring."

Marushi said his group is both coachable and talented. Although Ashland was winless as of March 30, the record is not a concern, according to the coach.

"I'd rather be exposed in March and April than in May," Marushi said. "We're going to continue to punch the clock and get to work."

Sophomore backstop Brady Marushi is undoubtedly one of the team's leaders. Through the first six games, he had mashed the team's lone home run.

Brady Marushi has overcome some injuries, including shoulder tendinitis and a hurt hand.

"He's healthy, and he's got a lot of pop," said his coach/father. "He really changed his body over the winter."

Drew Kelley, a junior, is one of the Tomcats' top arms. He also can play first and third bases and bat in the meat of the order.

"He was a bulldog last year," Marushi said. "I really think he'll have a great year."

LJ Murphy, a sophomore lefty, is statistically Ashland's best pitcher through six games. He has a 4.20 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 10 innings. When not pitching, he's usually in center field.

Tenth-grader Zane Ingram has grown about 4 inches from last year, according to Marushi. He logged 7 1/3 innings of mound time before spring break.

"He's really got a live arm," Marushi said. "He's our top 'velo' guy."

Ingram is also versatile, possessing the ability to play outfield or infield.

Austin Blevins (junior) is the starting shortstop who is a "tremendous athlete," Marushi said. "He runs like a deer and has a great glove and arm."

Junior twins Caden and Parker Church will contribute. Parker is "hitting the ball with a lot more authority," Marushi said.

Sophomores Pierce Wamsley, Trevor Downs and Sam Lyons are all in the main mix for Ashland, too.

Three freshmen "bring different aspects to the table," said their coach.

"People might call me crazy for saying it, but our goal is to win the 16th Region," Marushi said. "I know what kind of talent is there."


Like the Tomcats, the Eagles are full of youth.

Through eight games, eighth-grader Tevin Smith is Fairview's best hitter with an eye-popping .667 average. He, brother Tamel Smith (senior) and sophomore Eli Cummings share in the team lead with six RBIs apiece.

Sammons will look to juniors Tanner Reihs, Xavien Kouns and Izaac Johnson — along with Tamel Smith — as the experienced pillars on the team.

"(Reihs) has been on the mound in big games for us," Sammons said.

Cummings hurled a no-hitter against Menifee County. Ninth-grader Mason LeMaster, sophomore Blake Hall and freshman Jace Manning will get innings.

Johnson was hitting .389 through eight contests.

Kouns is Fairview's center-field staple. Tamel Smith, Jeffery Everetts (freshman), Hall and Cummings are outfielders.

Johnson and junior Austin Pack are first basemen. Tevin Smith, Cummings and eighth-grader Evan Williams will rotate at second. Reihs and Manning are the main shortstops. Sammons typically puts junior Kaden Sparks, Johnson or Reihs at third base.

Tevin Smith and Williams are handling the bulk of the catching load.

"They've already shown they belong on the varsity level," Sammons said of the eighth-graders.

"We have solid young pieces, and I like the strides we've made," Sammons added. "We're still looking for that one big program win. ... We're definitely going in the right direction."

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