Wild cards outnumber ranked teams in state baseball tourney

mfields@herald-leader.comJune 1, 2014 

Tates Creek's Luke Rouse doubled in the first inning against Madison Central during the 11th Region championship game. More on Tates Creek, Page B5

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  • Schedule

    At Whitaker Bank Ballpark

    Monday: Hazard (26-13) vs. McCracken County (31-8), 11 a.m.; South Warren (27-13) vs. Daviess County (20-14), 1:30 p.m.; Simon Kenton (22-16) vs. Southwestern (27-12), 6; South Laurel (27-8) vs. Cov. Scott (25-14), 8:30.

    Tuesday: North Bullitt (28-10) vs. Elizabethtown (28-7), 11 a.m.; Boyd County (22-15) vs. Conner (25-9), 1:30 p.m.; Tates Creek (33-6-1) vs. Johnson Central (30-10), 6; St. Xavier (26-10) vs. Union County (27-12), 8:30.

    Wednesday: Upper bracket quarterfinals, 6 and 8:30 p.m.

    Thursday: Lower bracket quarterfinals, 6 and 8:30 p.m.

    Friday: Semifinals, 6 and 8:30 p.m.

    Saturday: Finals, 7 p.m.

If you use the ratings to gauge the overall strength of this week's Rawlings/KHSAA State Baseball Tournament, it's not a power-packed 16-team field getting together at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.

No. 1 Tates Creek, No. 3 St. Xavier, No. 6 McCracken County and No. 24 South Warren are the only top-25 teams that won their regions.

That pales in comparison to last June when seven top-10 teams, and 12 of the top 25, made it to Lexington.

But who puts any stock in the ratings?

Not the coaches, who acknowledge their poll is a futile attempt to get a handle on who has the best teams from Paducah to Pikeville.

Who's to say this Rawlings/KHSAA State Tournament won't be a well-played, competitive, entertaining show?

"You can't get caught up in the rankings," McCracken County Coach Geno Miller said. "All these teams have good hitters and pitchers, kids who've been flying under the radar.

"There are a lot of unknown teams, a lot of wild cards in there this year, and that could make it exciting."

St. Xavier Coach Andy Porta, whose Tigers won the 7th Region for the fourth year in a row, has the same take.

"Some teams people never would've guessed a month ago would be in the Sweet 16, but here they are."

North Bullitt came out of the 6th Region instead of defending state champion Pleasure Ridge Park. Simon Kenton won its first ever region title by taking the 8th.

Covington Catholic and Dixie Heights were favored in the 9th, but Conner won it for the first time since 1979.

Covington Scott earned its first region crown in 26 years by taking the 10th. Southwestern, not No. 2 West Jessamine, won the 12th.

"I've talked with a lot of coaches across the state this year, and everybody agrees it's been wide open this season," Porta said. "I'm not sure there's a clear-cut favorite.

"I still think baseball is the toughest state tournament to win because all it takes is one kid on the mound. We found that out against Logan County last year."

The Cougars' Caleb Bruner was one pitch away from throwing an eight-inning no-hitter before St. X rallied for a 2-1 victory.

"We had no business winning that game," Porta said.

It still makes sense to view Tates Creek, St. X and McCracken County as having an edge on the other teams.

Tates Creek has talent, experience and motivation as it seeks the program's fourth state championship. (It won the title in 1978, '80 and '86.)

The Commodores, led by seniors Devin Hairston (shortstop), Luke Rouse (center field), Blake Rose (third base) and Tanner Hart (pitcher), are motivated by a loss to Collins in the first round of last year's state tournament.

St. X's Sam Springer (outfield), Tristan Purcell (second base), Miles Lee (outfield) and Hayden Ford (first base) started on last year's team that lost in the semifinals to eventual champ Pleasure Ridge Park.

Porta likes the depth of his pitching staff that includes Cam Revelette, who two-hit Trinity in the region finals, Connor Underwood, Grant Wessling and J.D. Mundt.

St. X has five state titles, the last one coming in 1981.

McCracken County is a first-year school flexing its athletic muscle following the consolidation of Heath, Lone Oak and Reidland.

Miller coached Lone Oak to the state tournament last year, and some of his former Purple Flash are now veterans for McCracken County.

Cole Womack, a junior who has committed to WKU, is a shortstop/pitcher. Preston Frommeyer is a senior righthander who has signed with Kentucky Wesleyan. And Josh Scheer is a junior pitcher.

Outfielder Nathan Williams is from Heath, and third baseman Austin Mourad is from Reidland.

Johnson Central, a 30-game winner, is representing the 15th Region. And 5th Region champ Elizabethtown's 12-game winning streak matches Tates Creek's as the longest in the state.

A few other teams aren't strangers to Lexington. South Warren was here in 2012; Union County and Boyd County both made it to Whitaker Bank Ballpark in 2011.

South Laurel also played here in 2012, '09 and '06, but lost in the first round each time. Cardinals Coach Wynn Harris thinks this year's team could make a breakthrough.

"Not to give anybody any billboard stuff, but I feel like we've got five pitchers we can throw out there that'll give us a chance," Harris said.

Daniel Neal, Braden Miller, Zach Allen, Trey Martin and Austin Vigeant have helped South Laurel post a 1.10 team ERA.

Neal, a junior who also plays shortstop and third, has committed to the University of Tennessee.

Harris hopes pitching and defense will make his team a contender this week.

"You don't have that standout name that's just dominated all year," he said. "I think there's a lot of parity. I really think a lot of teams have a chance to win it."

Besides Tates Creek and St. Xavier, three other schools in the field have won state titles: Elizabethtown (1970, '75), Daviess County (1971) and Boyd County (2001).

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

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