Ashland’s 64-60 overtime loss to Russell on Monday night snapped one of the most dominating streaks in 16th Region history. The Tomcats had won an incredible 43 consecutive games against regional competition.
The streak started when the Tomcats shocked everyone with three consecutive wins to capture the region tournament in 2019. That ended a 17-year drought between regional championships for the team that has won 35 of them, more than anybody else in Kentucky.
Two more regional titles followed as Ashland began building what would be the third-longest region winning streak in Tomcats’ and region history.
Think about that for a minute, and the dominance and good fortune it takes to accomplish that incredible feat.
Ashland has been a force with 3-point shooting and ball sharing skills the likes of which nobody has seen around here in years. Granted, the Tomcats had some miracle finishes – just ask West Carter (2020 season) and Rowan County (2021 regional championship game) – but they’ve also been very good and downright dominant most of the time. The Tomcat jersey that once drew shutters was doing it again.
Ashland fans haven’t enjoyed this kind of success in more than four decades to put it in more perspective. That’s when the Tomcats of the late coach Paul Patterson went undefeated against region competition in four consecutive seasons from 1975-79. Patterson left for Taylor University and Ernie Simpson inherited the unbeaten streak and Ashland didn’t skip a beat until the first round of the district tournament against talented Holy Family in 1980 when the Irish snapped the 51-game region winning streak. The Tomcats avenged the loss a week later in the regional finals.
And that’s not even the best streak in Ashland history. It belongs to the 1959-63 Tomcats who had a 56-game winning streak against regional foes snapped, ironically enough, against Russell 55-52 in the Red Devils’ gym in January 1963.
Larry Conley, Ashland’s own Larry Legend, was part of three of those teams, ending his career undefeated against region foes.
Ashland has eight streaks of 20 or more, including 39 (1927-30) that ties for fourth-best all-time.
Boyd County had streaks of 26 (1994-96) and 24 (1980-82) and Clark County owned streaks of 39 (1947-50) and 28 (1956-58). Elliott County had a 30-game streak (2008-09), Olive Hill recorded 24 (1958-59) and Fleming County 21 (2013-14).
That puts these Tomcats in good company. Ashland was undefeated against region competition in the 2019-20 and 1920-21 seasons, going 19-0 and 15-0 respectively, under coach Jason Mays, and were 6-0 before Monday night’s loss. Of course, the 33-0 season in 2020 – followed by COVID and the cancelling of the Sweet Sixteen – already had them in rare air.
Russell’s fans spilled onto the floor in celebration of knocking off the Tomcats on Monday and that shows its own level of respect because it had been so long since anybody had done it. The Red Devils played well, and Brady Bell was fabulous. The Tomcats were without injured point guard Colin Porter, whose value cannot be understated. He’s the best point guard in the state and that’s not an understatement.
Nevertheless, injuries are part of the game, and the Red Devils did what they needed to do for a well-earned win that makes the regional tournament next month that much more interesting. It should also give Russell a huge boost of confidence for the homestretch. After all, they slayed the giant.
Beware though. Just because Ashland suffered a region loss doesn’t mean it is finished. It just means they’re a little more human – and maybe a little more motivated.
While it knocks off some of the mystique that has followed the Tomcats in the last nearly four years, where beating them seemed darn near impossible, it may well serve as fuel for a team that needs good health more than added motivation.
However, it does put a chink in the Ashland armor that has the rest of the region saying, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance … “