Baseball is on the mind of Kentuckians as the University of Kentucky baseball team will host a Regional in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017 (also the last time they made the tournament).
However, with all of the (well-deserved) hype around the Bat ‘Cats, some are forgetting the other tournament taking place this week in Lexington. Young stars will look to make history for their schools on the diamond as the 2023 Clark’s Pump-N-Shop Baseball State Tournament began on Thursday. The first round is being held at Counter Clocks Field in Lexington, as Kentucky Proud Park will be booked.
Here at KSR, we’re recapping the matchups where Brady the Intern is on site for this year’s iteration of the playoffs. After Thursday and Fridays matchups, let’s see what Saturday had in store for the Bluegrass.
Shelby County 9 , Eastern 2
When the away team bats around in the top of the first, chances are the home team is in for a long day. But, despite having an enrollment of less than half of Eastern, Shelby County’s fans showed why numbers don’t mean everything. Blue and gold lined the first baseline as Rocket Pride engulfed Counter Clocks Field. Matching them was the blue and white from the Eastern faithful. Fans began to pour in half an hour before game time and the energy was palpable.
The nine players on the field sporting Shelby County across their chests obviously felt the love and energy as they flew out of the gates. Foster Whisman started the scoring off with a sacrifice fly in the first inning. He was followed by Jaxson Carter, who smashed a double into the outfield as two runners crossed home. Freddie Stohlman then singled home a run as Shelby County chased Eastern’s starter off the mound with only one out in the first. Tony Bailey added another RBI for the Rockets as they left the bottom of the first with a 5-0 lead.
Things did not get much better for the Eagles, as Myles Strong and Stohlman knocked home another pair of run. Cook later scored for Apollo on a passed ball. Through two innings, the Rockets held a commanding 8-2 lead over the darlings of Louisville. Eastern’s runs came from Carson Shee and Ben Brown, as Shee enjoyed an excellent post-season for the Eagles. However, runs became scarce after the abundance in the first two innings. Only one more runner crossed the plate in the remaining five innings. This run came on an RBI from pitcher Carter White, as White put the nail in the coffin of Eastern.
Eastern accomplished a ton on the season, running through the gauntlet of the seventh region. Shelby County just showed up in a way where nobody could beat them. If the Rockets continue this play, they could make a splash in the final four.
Apollo 7, Lexington Catholic 3
Most will look at this score, and their first thought will be wondering how Lexington Catholic bowed out of the tournament. Some others will think of how impressive of an upset this was for the Apollo Eagles. However, Coach Brandon Dennis believes the Eagles are tired of hearing about these so-called upsets.
After the game, Dennis said, “We knew coming into this year we had two of the best arms in the entire state. So for every game we’ve won this postseason being called an “upset,” but every line we read after (the Beechwood game) talked about how we upset Beechwood, and it’ll be the same story today.”
Coach Dennis praised the play of Lexington Catholic and the other teams they have overcome; however, the point still stood; it’s time to drop the underdog label. Today, Apollo played like a team tired of hearing about the other 15 teams entering Thursday. Lexington Catholic was a consensus top-10 (even top-five) team in Kentucky entering today. The Eagles dismantled the Knights in the late innings. Dennis’ squad was patient, playing good defense and pitching well. With patience came an opportunity to open the floodgates in the fifth inning.
Entering the fifth, Apollo held a less-than-commanding 1-0 lead over the dangerous Knights. Most in the stadium probably assumed a late surge from Lexington Catholic was imminent. With the final four set at Kentucky Proud Park, it sets up perfectly for a Knights championship. However, the boys from Owensboro had other ideas. Garret Lanham started the fifth with a walk, followed by a single from Grayson Smith. Not to be outdone, the top of the order singled and doubled after a double play scored a run. Mayes then singled on a bunt, which was highly disputed as Lex Cath felt he was out at first. However, he was called safe and later crossed home.
By the end of the fifth, the Eagles had brought in three runs on three hits from Smith, Mayes, and Blandford. Apollo followed this up with two more runs in the sixth on three hits with one from Lillpop. An insurance RBI single from Lillpop in the seventh was enough for the Eagles. They will advance to next weekend’s matchup against Shelby County at Kentucky Proud Park.
Henderson County 7, Harrison County 4
Remember when Geno Smith said, “They wrote me off; I never wrote back.” Well, Henderson County may have snuck Geno into their dugout because they had the comeback of the tournament. The drama of this tournament continues to get better each game. However, a scoreline of 7-4 does not come close to giving this game justice.
Henderson County came from the depths of elimination to defeat Harrison County on Saturday night. Harrison entered the game as the clear favorite, and they played like it to the start. At the end of the fifth inning, Harrison commanded a 4-1 lead, and Henderson looked as good as done. However, fans would be lying if they thought there was still a game to be had. Henderson County only had three hits to that point.
However, two hits came in the fifth inning, giving the Colonels hope. Harrison County’s runs came from pitcher JD Kendall, who finished with two RBIs for the Thoroughbreds. The offense and defense did all they could through five innings, giving the Thorobreds a lead anybody would dream about; going further down motivated Henderson and their staff. Henderson County came alive in the sixth inning, as Meadows and Gardner both scored for the Colonels.
Entering the seventh and final inning, the Colonels trailed 4-3 and held some momentum after their stellar sixth. The inning started when catcher Seth Galloway singled. Then after a sacrifice bunt, Alec Satterfield singled to put two runners on base with one out. Dru Meadows then walked, and Cooper Vowels drove in a run on a sac fly. Brennan Cates then singled for the Colonels to take the 5-4 lead. Harrison’s manager then intentionally walked DH Gardner to bring up Dax Wilson. Bases loaded, two outs, top of the seventh, only one run lead. Wilson stepped up and knocked a double down the line to drive in two runs, giving Henderson the 7-4 advantage.
“I knew once they (intentionally walked) him I was gonna make them pay for it. My teammates were behind me and they had complete trust in me to come through,” Dax said after the game.
Reed Rheinhardt then closed the door on Harrison’s season, and Henderson completed the comeback. What a win, what resiliency. Look out for Henderson because they aren’t underdogs anymore.
Whitley County 7, South Warren 4
South Warren and Whitley Country capped off a great day of baseball on Saturday night. The two squads battled for the final spot in the final four next week at Kentucky Proud Park. South Warren has been known as the comeback kids over the past few weeks, working themselves out of multiple jams. Whitley County has been one of the best teams around recently, ending the season with a 36-4 record. As you can imagine, something had to give. And through the first few innings, both teams seemed to understand the importance of the matchup. The first two innings went scoreless, as pitchers Dalton Sisson and Grant Zehr held it down for their respective sides.
However, the third inning opened the floodgates of runs as both lineups combined for six runs. South Warren put up a four spot in the top half of the inning, namely a two run TANK from Ethan Reynolds sent the South Warren faithful into a frenzy. Tucker Bishop added a triple for the Spartans. Whitley County answered with two runs of their own including a two RBI double from Grant Zehr. With both teams recovering from the thrills of the third the fourth inning went scoreless.
In the fifth inning, everything got going for Whitley County as they knocked in five runs on five hits—namely, a giant triple from Mathew Wright as he knocked in two runs. Also, Harp and Osborne both got hits with an RBI. A five-run fifth was enough to end the season for South Warren as Whitley County continues to be the favorite in this tournament. It would be wise to think Whitley County will get it done, and the bracket has opened up for the Colonels. One thing is for sure, Whitley County will bring out a ton of fans, and a lot of fun.