Tates Creek left a lot of runners on base in its district showdown with Lexington Catholic on Monday night, but the top-ranked Commodores still left their ball park as regular-season 43rd District champions after a 2-1 victory over the No. 5 Knights.
"When our offense isn't working, we've got to find other ways to keep us in the game. We did that with our defense tonight," said Tates Creek senior shortstop Devin Hairston.
The Commodores helped out ace Tanner Hart by turning three inning-ending double plays.
"Oh my goodness, in a close game like this, those double plays were huge," Hairston said.
Hart improved his record to 8-0 (12-0 over the last two seasons) by throwing a complete-game five-hitter. The senior right-hander had eight strikeouts and four walks.
Hart seemed to get a second wind in the seventh inning after he hit the leadoff batter, Taylor Henley, and issued a one-out walk to pinch hitter David Mueller.
With the tying run at second, Hart struck out the next two Knights to end the game.
"It's getting to be crunch time," Hart said. "When games are going to be like this, 2-1, it's whoever is more mentally prepared for it."
Tates Creek took a 1-0 lead in the first when Luke Rouse drew a leadoff walk and Hart doubled to chase him home.
Lexington Catholic tied it in the third. Chris Anderson tripled, then scored when the Commodores' made an error on a pick-off attempt.
The Knights threatened to get more, but they stranded runners at second and third.
Tates Creek wasted a chance at a big inning in the bottom of the third. It loaded the bases with no outs, and Blake Rose singled to drive in Hart. But that was it. Lexington Catholic got a couple of force-outs at home and a fly out to keep it a 2-1 deficit.
Tates Creek wound up leaving nine runners on base for the game, but its defense came to the rescue with a variety of double plays:
A routine 4-6-3 (Curtis Bethel to Devin Hairston to Jordan Fucci) to end the second. A popped-up bunt to the pitcher (Hart) who doubled up a runner at first to end the fifth. And a line drive to center that Luke Rouse snagged knee high, then fired to second to get the Lexington Catholic runner who was rounding third when Rouse made his catch.
Knights Coach Taylor Brooks said it was a "tough read" for his base runner, but it was a chance they took because they knew Rouse had a strong arm if there were a play at the plate.
"We were trying to tie the game, and living or dying by that," Brooks said. "It's dang if you do, dang if you don't.
"It just wasn't our day today."
Willie Poe was terrific in relief for the Knights. He worked 31⁄3 innings, gave up no runs, two hits and had seven strikeouts.
Tates Creek's victory earned it the No. 1 seed in next week's district tournament at Lafayette.
"It feels good right now, but it's going to be short-lived," Hairston said. "We've got to get back to work and keep winning."
"It means a lot right now, but tomorrow's another day and we gotta focus in on that," he said.
Tates Creek 2, Lexington Catholic 1
Lexington Catholic 001 000 0—1 5 1
Tates Creek 101 000 x—2 9 0
Griffin Neuer, Willie Poe (3) and Riley Jackson. Tanner Hart and Max Sweet. 2B—Taylor Henley (LC), Hart (TC), Devin Hairston (TC). 3B—Chris Thompson (LC).
Records: Lexington Catholic 20-11; Tates Creek 24-6
Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com.