Greenup County and Lawrence County met in the opening game of the baseball season in late March in conditions that could have left icicles on their aluminum bats.
“It was snowy, and probably in the high 30s,” Greenup County Coach Greg Logan remembered. “Definitely not baseball weather.”
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No wonder he and Lawrence County Coach Randy Keeton dreamed about a rematch at a later, warmer date.
“We talked that day about how it'd be nice to be playing again at Applebee's Park in June,” Logan remembered.
So be it.
Greenup County and Lawrence County will meet in the opening game of the Forcht Bank State Tournament at Applebee's Park on Thursday.
Neither coach is thrilled about the 10 a.m. first pitch — “Before we get our coffee drink,” Logan said — but they aren't complaining.
“It's awesome; I love it that we're going back to Apple-bee's,” said Keeton, who is retiring as the Bulldogs' coach after 25 years.
“I was there as coach (in 2003), and the kids have heard me talk about this over and over since February.”
Greenup County was in the state tournament last year in Logan's first season as head coach. “It was such a great experience, we're going to try it again,” he said with a laugh.
Lawrence County and Greenup County were considered the best teams the 15th and 16th regions when the season began, and they've lived up to their billing.
Greenup County is 36-6 (tying the school record for victories) and riding a 22-game winning streak.
“The kids just don't like to lose,” Logan said. “We've got good pitching, good defense, we've put runs on the board when we've needed to, and we've stayed healthy.”
Tyler Hieneman is the Musketeers' ace. The senior left-hander is 9-0 with a 1.15 earned-run average. He has 120 strikeouts and 23 BB walks in 73 innings.
The Morehead State signee threw a perfect game in the district, and he had a 37-inning scoreless streak snapped in the semi-state. “He's 6-foot-3, throws it around 83-84 mph, has great control and a great change-up,” Logan said.
Junior shortstop Eric Craft triggers the offense as the leadoff man. He's batting .430 with 54 runs and 48 RBI.
Junior catcher Billy Logan, the coach's son, leads the team with a .457 average and 52 RBI.
“Our kids are confident,” Greg Logan said. “We've improved drastically since the season started, and we've played good competition.”
Lawrence County also comes to town feeling good about itself. The Bulldogs are 30-7 and have won 13 in a row. Their last loss was to Greenup County late in the regular season.
“We knew we'd have good pitching this year, but our biggest improvement has been in hitting the ball,” Keeton said. “From the district on, we've scored 82 runs and given up nine. We're swinging the bats.”
Senior shortstop Jeff Cyrus (.458) and senior catcher Tim Hayes (.457) are the offensive catalysts.
Lawrence County's most reliable pitcher is Chandler Shepherd, a seasoned veteran despite being a freshman.
Shepherd won four games as a seventh-grader, and eight as an eighth-grader, including victories over three teams (Greenup County, Ryle and Johnson Central) that made it to the state tournament.
He is 9-1 this season with a 1.31 ERA, 107 K's and 18 walks in 75 innings.
Just how alike are Green-up County and Lawrence County? The Ashland Daily-Independent's all-area team had Logan and Keeton as co-coaches of the year, and the Musketeers and Bulldogs each had their star pitchers, catchers and shortstops honored.
And both teams have high hopes coming into the state tournament.
“Our kids have run off 22 straight wins and played some good competition,” Logan said. “That's pretty remarkable. We've shown we can play with these guys.”
Lawrence County's goal is to get to Saturday night's finals.
“We really think we've got a good shot at it,” Keeton said. “We're not just telling a story.”