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. Let’s see what Thursday had in store for the Bluegrass.
Shelby County 3, McCracken County 0
Thursday started off with a bang as a consensus top-10 team fell to an unranked opponent in the state. First, Shelby County pitcher Kemper Whisman shut out highly ranked McCracken County through five innings. Then, senior Hunter Cook shut the door in two innings of closing duty, giving up only one hit through seven batters. When the final strike landed in the catcher’s mitt, the (more than half) Rocket crowd erupted, letting the players know how much the win meant to Shelby County.
Cook and Whisman combined for seven innings of work, with three hits allowed, five strikeouts, and one walk. Whisman brought the heat on the mound, and the senior banged at the plate. In fact, the Rockets’ first run of the day came from a Whisman triple in the first inning. But, the Rockets still needed more to be done as Whisman scored on a sacrifice fly from brother Foster Whisman.
Shelby County will continue to be a dark horse in the tournament, but this win may very well send a message to the remaining squads that the Rockets are looking to take off. Coach Kingsolver spoke about the crowd and nerves after the game, “The atmosphere can affect you, we look it right in the face and acknowledge it exists, but still do our jobs. 60 feet, six inches, 90-foot bases, it’s all the same.”
McCracken County’s ace Zach Sims has enjoyed a great season, and he pitched a wonderful game once he was able to settle. After Shelby County’s first-inning runs, Sims was able to relax and pitch three good innings of baseball. Tyler Chapman relived Sims and pitched two innings with no earned runs allowed. However, the Shelby County pitching proved to be too much for the Mustangs, as the Rockets move on to play Eastern on Saturday.
Eastern 7, Bullitt East 5
For those that say baseball is boring, you were proven wrong on Thursday. Eastern and Bullitt East battled in one of the most entertaining games you’ll ever see. Four hours and 33 minutes after the first pitch, Carson Shee made a play he will remember forever. Shee stepped up with a runner on first and one out; the sophomore was 0-4 up to this point.
Most would feel immense pressure at this point, letting the worries of the first four at-bats make the bat feel heavier. However, the designated hitter threw on his speed boots and hit a tank to center field. Bullitt East’s Dax Raney tried to make a game-saving diving catch, except the ball bounced before his outstretched glove, and he began to scoot into deep center field. Shee wheeled around second as the ball began to be retrieved, and he seemed to have one thing on his mind.
“I thought it was just a triple, and as I got to third (our third base coach) told me to keep goin’. So I just kept going, and it worked out.”
By working out, Shee means he hit a two-run, inside the park home-run in the top of the 11th inning. Hollywood couldn’t write something better.
Four-plus hours and a whole lot of drama later, a winner was crowned. Eastern defeated Bullitt East 7-5, a war that saw both teams bring their A+ game.
Both teams traded the lead throughout the game like it was a bad habit. It seemed as though neither could find the precise shot to end the game. Both pitchers Henry Craig (Eastern) and Kendall Henson (Bullitt East) produced great games, with Craig going six innings and only allowing two earned runs.
Henson pitched a gem through five innings. However, the Eagles were able to figure him out and put up four runs in the top of the 6th. The four runs came from walks and a double, with Eastern entering the inning trailing 2-0. However, when all was said and done, the Eagles’ pitching staff of Craig, Waugh, and Brown sealed the deal for Eastern, holding off the resilient Chargers.
Craig left the game in the sixth after committing an error. After the game, Craig spoke about needing to keep a positive mindset, trusting that his teammates would come through. “We were trying to keep each other up; we knew a big inning was coming. And it finally came at the end.”
Something may just be magic about this Eastern Eagles squad. They have beaten the best the state has to offer, and have held on for narrow victories along the way. Coach Thomas Graves brings the energy to the squad, which is evident in how they play. Now it’s time for the Eagles to finish their story.
Apollo 3, Beechwood 0
Beechwood’s Mathew Kappas and Apollo’s Noah Cook brought their best stuff. Thursday night’s matchup between the Eagles and the Tigers was a classic pitching matchup. With what Kappas and Cook brought to the mound, anybody that stepped in the box had little chance of getting on base. Entering the sixth inning, Beechwood had two hits, while Apollo had only reached on an error. The score was set at zeros, and things did not seem to be changing.
Apollo finally was able to wake up the bats, as the inning started with a base hit from second baseman Garrett Lanham. Then, Lanham advanced two bases on a steal and passed ball. Grayson Smith then hit a screamer to third, but Beechwood’s Michael Detsel made a tremendous grab. However, Detsel was unable to tag Lanham at third, as Smith reached on the fielder’s choice.
Kent State commit Will Strode then walked to give the Eagles a bases-loaded opportunity. After Apollo was up to two outs, Sam Holder stepped up with the bases loaded. Hard to find a more pressure-packed situation than that, but he came through. Holder knocked a ball into the left field gap to drive in all three runs with the triple. With the triple, the Eagles obtained the first lead for either team. The three-run cushion proved to be enough as Apollo’s Strode shut down the Tigers in the bottom of the seventh.
Apollo will continue their journey with a matchup against Lexington Catholic on Saturday. Beechwood finishes the year with a 27-10 record, as all of Fort Mitchell will be proud of what the Tigers accomplished.
Lexington Catholic 6, Raceland 3
Public service announcement for the remaining teams in the tournament, Lexington Catholic is very, very good. Blue and white jerseys were running around the bases like clockwork as the Knights hit the cover off the ball. In the first inning alone, the Knights scored a swift three runs as Harrison Tibe reached on an error and Zack Grigalis knocked a double into the outfield.
When the second rolled around, Kentucky baseball commit Griffin Cameron knocked in a run on a ground-rule double in deep left field. Cameron bats from the left side, so it took serious power for the 6-foot-1 center fielder. Grigalis then followed with his second RBI double in two innings, igniting the Knights to a 6-0 lead.
After the Knights’ first attack, Raceland settled down and stopped the Lexington Catholic offense. Raceland held the Knights to two scoreless innings in the third and fourth. However, the Knights starting pitcher Pierre Kaufman tossed an absolute gem, not letting the Rams get going. By the end of the game, Lexington Catholic walked away with the 6-3 win.
The Knights have a date with Apollo for a spot in the final four. Raceland fought their hearts out, and played really well after the second inning; the damage had already been done, though. Lexington Catholic will look to be the favorite for the remainder of the tournament.