ASHLAND — The state’s only unbeaten girls soccer team is showing no signs of slowing down.
Abby Huff lit up the home nets for seven goals and assisted another as Ashland advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time by knocking off North Laurel, 9-1, in the Semi-State 7 game on Tuesday night.
North Laurel finished the season at 16-2-1, including a 15-game unbeaten streak culminating with the 13th Region title.
“Like I just told the girls, it ended badly but we’ve had a good year,” North Laurel coach Rod Messer said.
The Lady Jaguars’ only other loss came back in mid-August by a 9-1 score to eventual 10th Region champion George Rogers Clark.
“Those two teams are probably about the same level,” Messer said.
North Laurel avoided a shutout on Madison Dagley’s goal with 17:08 remaining. Earlier in the second half, 13th Region Player of the Year Lily Messer’s penalty kick caromed off the left post.
“I could never have imagined,” said Ashland coach John Cook, still unbeaten as the LadyCats’ first-year head coach after spending several years as an assistant on E.B. Lowman’s staff. “This is as far as Ashland has ever gone. It’s phenomenal. This is a very unselfish bunch that plays for each other.”
The LadyCats rolled to a 6-0 halftime lead and never looked back in going to 19-0-2 — a school record for wins.
“Oh my gosh,” said senior Morgan Bradley, who scored her team’s second goal and also supplied two assists. “I never thought at the beginning of the season this would happen. We’ve hit our peak, and hit it at the perfect time.”
Said Cook: “Morgan had a fantastic game. She’s really come on these last few games and is hitting her stride.”
Jess Brown set the tone by sending a shot a shot inside the far post with less than three-and-a-half minutes expired.
Bradley’s goal came in the 13th minute, then Ashland’s defense made a couple of nice recoveries to spoil North Laurel scoring opportunities.
Huff poured in the LadyCats’ last four goals of the first half, then added three more after the intermission.
“Offensively and defensively we are an attacking team,” Cook said. “It all starts with the McLain girls pushing that attack, and Abby.”
Huff now has 63 goals on the season and 161 for her career — both school records.
“One thing about her and that team, they are a good example of being relentless,” Messer said. “I thought that’s what they did to Rowan (in 16th Region final). Ashland’s well coached and skilled, but they also play very hard. They are going to be tough to beat. I expect they will be in the Final Four.”
Next up for Ashland is a home matchup Thursday against Prestonsburg, a 10-0 winner over Estill County on Tuesday.
The high-scoring Huff is happy to be a part of the LadyCats’ historic run.
“It’s our first state win,” she said. “We made history, so that’s cool. It’s exciting because we have good chemistry. Everyone plays off each other and creates opportunities for each other.”
Huff scored Ashland’s final goal off a feed from Reilly McLain, then exited with 3:45 on the clock and hugged Lowman behind Ashland’s bench.
Cook told Lowman he has to come back and wear the same clothes for the LadyCats’ next game.
“E.B.’s been so supportive of me and the girls,” Cook said. “We’ll keep riding this train as long as we can. It’s magical.”
Ashland goalkeeper Mikayla Martin finished with nine saves.