Josh Hitchcock hopes his "really good curveball" will help land him a college scholarship next spring. If nothing else, the Johnson Central senior-to-be is a champion when it comes to hitting life's change-ups.
The Golden Eagles baseball team was on cloud nine after upsetting No. 1 Tates Creek in the first round of the state baseball tournament in 2014. It was only the school's second win at state and its first in 10 years.
But news from back in Appalachia quickly brought them back to Earth.
Because heavy rain had caused the nearby creek to rise, Ronnie and Patty Hitchcock — Josh's retired parents — stayed at their home on Route 3 near Inez instead of making the trip to Whitaker Bank Ballpark. Their house flooded the day after the Eagles advanced.
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Then it worsened.
Hitchcock was warming up for a quarterfinals date with St. Xavier when a Facebook post was brought to his attention. A lightning bolt had struck his house, igniting a blaze that consumed the home.
"Facebook is good sometimes, and sometimes it's not," Patty, who lettered four years for Johnson Central's girls' basketball team in the late '70s, said of her son learning about the disaster via social media. She found comfort in knowing he was out of harm's way and doing something he loved.
Josh, then a sophomore, was defiant in the face of tragedy as he stepped onto the mound moments later.
"(The game) was tougher for me, but I knew everything would eventually be OK," Hitchcock said. "So I focused on the game and was hoping to get a win."
Johnson Central fell to the Tigers 6-3, but the loss back home would prove more trying for the Hitchcocks than a June baseball defeat.
The family's insurance covered the fire, but the flood damage was not included in their payout. Josh, his parents and his brother Jonathan, now 20, stayed in a motel for a while before renting a house through December 2014.
After paying for it in full with cash, the family finally moved into a new double-wide trailer in January.
'You just gotta go with it'
Josh's resolve was again tested last week.
He watched his family's six-month-old home get swept away amid the flash flooding that struck Flatgap and other areas of Johnson County on Monday.
Emergency workers estimated that 500 homes were damaged with as many as 150 destroyed. Four people drowned.
Once the water receded — "it went down as fast as it went up," Patty said — the Hitchcocks had to come to terms with losing their second home to natural disaster in the span of 13 months.
"You can't really handle it," Josh said. "It's just something you gotta live with. It's hard losing one. Losing another one's even more hard.
"You just gotta go with it I guess."
He witnessed and documented a chilling sight. Using his phone, Josh shot video of a neighbor's home uprooted by water and then crushed by a nearby bridge (see the video below).
"It was unreal," he said. "You never expect to see a house floating down what was a creek. ... It was a creek that turned into a river. A double-wide floating down the river."
Hitchcock has fielded requests to use the video on broadcasts from CBS Evening News, NBC News and even CBC News in Canada. He called the whole experience "surreal."
"You never dream of being on something like that over something like this," he said.
Seven people, two rooms
Just five months after moving into their new home, the Hitchcocks — Josh, his brother Jonathan, Ronnie and Patty — are staying in the home of Stephanie Musick Cantrell, Patty's 37-year-old daughter. Cantrell's husband Joe and her daughter Kaitlyn, 18, are staying there as well.
"We are in a two-bedroom duplex with seven people, but we are managing," Patty said.
Relief is slowly coming. Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen and Kentucky State Police said FEMA will arrive Monday in Johnson County. The county website has posted a PDF with instructions for those with damage.
Patty is eager to meet with FEMA officials but is more just relieved that all her "babies" are still safe.
"As long as I've got my kids with me I'm going to be OK," Patty said. "But it's hard. This double wide, we only had it for five months. To see it float down the creek like it did was really, really heartbreaking."
She was astonished at how quickly things turned for the worse Monday. She said she saw Scott Johnson — one of the five persons reported missing — that morning at the Wal-Mart in Paintsville, and that it had just started sprinkling as she returned home.
"So I made the boys go get my stuff," she said. "Just a normal day. All of a sudden (Jonathan) looks out the window and says, 'Mom, it's going to get in the house.' I said 'no, it never does' then looked later and it was up to our back step. I said, 'Yeah, we better hurry.'"
A GoFundMe campaign seeking $5,000 to help get the family back on its feet was started by Patty's brother Jeff Wells. As of Saturday night, $660 had been raised.
Patty said flood insurance was not available to anyone in the area because they weren't considered to be in a flood zone. Jonathan obtained a computer from the home before it was destroyed, but the rest of the family's possessions were lost.
"Older people were coming down to watch the creek," she said, "and this lady said 'I'm 73 years old and lived here all my life, and this has never happened.'"
'Playing sports helps out'
The youngest member of the Hitchcock family has faced his share of tough losses on the field, on the court — he was a guard on Johnson Central's basketball teams that were upended early in each of the previous three Sweet Sixteens — and outside of sports, all before his senior year has gotten underway.
Josh thinks the adversity has only made him stronger as an athlete. When the mental weight becomes too much to bear, he knows he can turn to athletics to stave off any demons.
"Playing sports helps out and relieves stress," he said. "It just always helps get my mind off things."
And where was Hitchcock headed this weekend, not even a week after losing his second home in 13 months?
To a summer tournament in Louisville, ready to brush off another one of life's curveballs by throwing out some of his own.