Tates Creek baseball carries hot streak, strong focus into Sweet 16

mfields@herald-leader.comJune 1, 2014 

Tates Creek's Blake Rose, left, and Devin Hairston hugged after defeating Madison Central for the 11th Region title.

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When Tates Creek won the 11th Region baseball title last year for the first time since 1990, the team had a swagger that suggested it fully expected to win the school's fourth state championship.

That swagger disappeared, however, when the Commodores lost to Collins 6-4 in the first round of the state tournament.

After Tates Creek repeated as region champ last week, the players said they're determined to make their swings count in this year's Sweet 16.

"We definitely have a different attitude," said senior center fielder Luke Rouse.

"We got a little cocky last year, I must say. Not this year. We're taking it one game at a time and staying focused."

Tates Creek (33-6-1) plays 15th Region champ Johnson Central (30-10) Tuesday night in the Rawlings/KHSAA State Tournament at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.

Tanner Hart, the ace of pitching staff, said the Commodores want to "prove we're ranked No. 1 for a reason.

"We do everything it takes to be No. 1, and if we play our game — hit, field and pitch — like we've done all year, we'll be all right."

Tates Creek has kicked its offense into high gear in the playoffs. Guys are swinging hot bats up and down the lineup.

Rouse, in the lead-off spot, leads the team with a .416 average. He's scored 40 runs.

Senior shortstop Devin Hairston is hitting .398. He's gone 7-for-11 in the playoffs, with nine runs and nine RBI. On the season he has 41 runs and 24 RBI.

Junior first baseman Jordan Fucci has raised his average to .358 by batting almost .500 in the post-season.

Senior third baseman Blake Rose is at .363, and sophomore leftfielder Jaren Shelby is at .298, with 31 RBI, including eight in the region.

Junior outfielder Matt Neal and junior catcher Max Sweet have contributed their share of big hits, too.

Hart has been solid as the designated hitter, with a .290 average, but his arm is more valuable than his bat.

The senior righthander is 10-0 with a 1.24 earned run average. He doesn't have overpowering stuff, but he's a thinking-man's pitcher who pounds the zone. He has 62 strikeouts to only 16 walks.

"Tanner's been huge for us all year," Hairston said. "If he keeps pitching like that, we'll go far."

For Tates Creek to make a deep run this week, Noah Stone (7-1, 1.60), Parker Yeary (4-1, 1.60) and Tanner McCoy (5-1, 2.02) will have to continue to throw well, too.

Backing up the pitching staff is a terrific defense, led by the slick fielding Hairston, a Louisville signee. He and second baseman Curtis Bethel are a reliable double-play combination.

Coach Dom Fucci thought his Commodores felt the pressure of expectations in the region finals.

"I think we were tight, I think we were antsy," he said. "But I think winning the region will loosen them up because they're so excited to get to go back to Whitaker Bank Ballpark."

And once they get there, they intend to keep their eye on the ball, not on the prize.

"We're going in a lot more focused this year," Hairston said. "We know we can't take any pitches off."

Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com.

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