”Who's on first?“ was the question posed by funny men Abbott and Costello.
”Who's on the mound?“ is the question posed by coaches serious about winning the state baseball title at Applebee's Park this week.
Imagine football coaches being limited to using their star quarterbacks in only one game over the last three weeks of the playoffs.
Or imagine the consternation among basketball coaches if their star point guard were eligible to play only one game in the final three rounds of the Sweet Sixteen.
Baseball coaches are in that unnerving situation in the state tournament. Because of rules that wisely limit the number of innings a pitcher can work, coaches have to figure out when to play their aces.
”It's a battle we coaches face because we don't want to be chastised if we don't use our best pitcher and get beat,“ said Lexington Catholic Coach Rodney Martin. ”Those demons might be a little harder to get through than trying to win the tournament.“
Martin knows the pressures. He guided the Knights to two state titles (1999 and 2006). Two years ago, he held ace Nick Maronde until the semifinals against St. Xavier. Martin had to make another tough call this week on whether to use Maronde against Harrison County in Thursday's first round.
Harrison County Coach Mac Whitaker, who also had to decide whether to play his ace, Brandon Martin, said he would never second-guess another coach's decision. Like Martin, Whitaker has been there, done that. He has had the Thorobreds in seven state tournaments and won three championships. ”I've had to face that problem many times, and every time we've won (the state title), we've held a pitcher,“ Whitaker said. ” You get lucky because, sometimes, you can afford to do that.
”You know your own team better than anybody. You do what you have to do to benefit your team and give it the best shot at winning the tournament.“
One of the more memorable examples of a coach holding his ace was in the 1994 final four. Apollo's Bob Mantooth decided not to throw junior left-hander Brad Wilkerson, who was 11-0 with a 0.71 earned run average, in the semifinals. Mantooth hoped to save the future Mr. Baseball (and major-league outfielder) for the finals against Pleasure Ridge Park. Corbin spoiled those plans by upsetting Apollo 5-4.
PRP Coach Bill Miller did use his ace, senior lefty Scott Downs, who was 13-0 with a 0.50 ERA, in the semifinals. The future Mr. Baseball (and major-league pitcher) beat Lexington Catholic. The next day, PRP beat Corbin for its first state title.
■ PRP's Bill Miller and Harrison County's Mac Whitaker have remarkably similar coaching careers. Coming into the state tournament, Miller had an overall record of 858-220, including three state titles (all in the 1990s) and four runner-up finishes. Whitaker's record was 850-245, including three state titles (all in the 1990s) and two runner-up finishes.
■ If Lawrence County freshman pitcher Chandler Shepherd stays healthy, he might have a shot at the state record for career victories. Shepherd, who's been playing varsity ball since he was a seventh-grader, already has 22 wins. If he averages 11 wins over the next three years, he'd be close to the state record of 55 wins set by Paul Morse, who pitched for Danville from 1988 to '92.
■ Before last week's pro draft, Heath pitcher Daniel Webb and his family put a $1 million price tag on his services. That's why he dropped to the 12th round before he was taken by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Champ Webb, Daniel's dad, said he is optimistic they can get a deal with the D-backs. ”I don't think they would've drafted Daniel if they didn't really want him,“ Champ Webb said. But the Webbs aren't sure what to make of a comment by the D-backs scouting director, who said he hoped the team and the Webbs could ”find a happy medium.“
The Webbs said they will stick with their $1 million price. Champ Webb said the high school season was ”emotionally draining“ and ”not a lot of fun“ for his son.
With the draft over, Daniel is playing for a summer team out of southern Illinois, ”and baseball is fun again.“ The Webbs are also having fun with the fact that the D-backs' star pitcher is a Kentuckian named Webb — Brandon Webb. ”We don't know for sure we're not kin,“ Champ said. ”We might be 43rd cousins or something.“ If Daniel doesn't go pro, he has a couple options — he has signed with UK, or he could go to a junior college.
■ Lexington Catholic pitcher Nick Maronde and PRP infielder/pitcher Zack Cox, two other highly regarded prospects, also had undisclosed hefty price tags that kept them from going early in the draft. Maronde fell all the way to the 43rd round, where he was taken by the Oakland A's. Cox slipped to the 20th round before the Los Angeles Dodgers took him. Maronde will play college ball at Florida. Cox signed with Arkansas.
■ Boone County catcher Cory Farris was taken in the 43rd round of the pro baseball draft by the Chicago White Sox last week. But he told the Cincinnati Enquirer he plans to play at UK instead. Farris hit .475 with 33 RBI this season.
■ Lawrence County alumnus Steve Blevins, who pitched in college for Cincinnati and Marshall, has signed with the Minnesota Twins. Blevins was drafted in the 21st round last week. He had a 9-3 record at Marshall this year.
■ Ryle's Kirsten Allen, who owns most of the state's fast-pitch softball records, has been named Kentucky's Miss Softball and was selected as Gatorade's player of the year in Kentucky. Allen, who will play college softball at Oklahoma, was 34-5 this season with a 0.19 ERA, 11 no-hitters and four perfect games. In her career, she had a 142-24 record, with 110 shutouts, 14 perfect games, 41 no-hitters and 1,865 strikeouts. She led Ryle to the state championship in 2006, and four region titles. Allen was also a star in the classroom with a 3.77 GPA.
■ The 12th annual Kentucky East-West All-Star fast-pitch series will be played at UK's softball complex this weekend. Abby Sears of North Laurel, Hadley Clark of Owensboro Catholic and Brooklyn Jimison of Middlesboro will handle pitching duties for the two sides. Rowan County's Amber Riddle, who set a state home-run record this season, will play for the East junior All-Stars. Games begin Saturday at 9 a.m. and continue Sunday when the East meets the West in the junior and senior games at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Rosters and coaching staff are listed on the Web site: www.kyhighschoolsoftball.com.
■ School is out, but this is one of the busiest weekends of the year for high school sports. Besides the state baseball tournament at Applebee's Park, the Best of the Bluegrass East-West All-Star Football Game is at Louisville's Papa John's Cardinal Stadium Friday night. The Kentucky-Indiana girls' and boys' All-Star basketball games are Friday night in Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, and the rematches are at Louisville Gardens on Sunday afternoon.
■ Rod Drake, a standout on Owensboro's 1980 Sweet Sixteen title team, is the Red Devils' new coach. He succeeds Wayne Breeden, who left to take over at Tates Creek. ”It's a lifetime dream,“ Drake told the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer. Drake played college basketball at Kentucky Wesleyan. He has been an assistant at Owensboro since 2001.
■ Trading places: Don Daniel is the new boys' basketball coach at Somerset. He replaces Shawn Thacker, who left the Briar Jumpers for Rowan County, where Daniel resigned as coach at the end of the season. Daniel was at Rowan County for 13 years and had a record of 218-158, highlighted by a 16th Region title in 2005.
■ Steve Winkler is returning for his third stint as Whitesville Trinity boys' basketball coach. He was there from 1988-95 and 1996-99.
■ Former Holmes girls' basketball star Travece Turner is the Lady Bulldogs new coach. She coached at Newport last season.
■ Bourbon County's Thomas Denninghoff, a Governor's Scholar who's headed to the Air Force Academy, capped his senior year with a standout performance in the Class 2A state track meet. He repeated as champ in the 300 hurdles. He was second in the 110 hurdles, third in the long jump and was part of the third-place 4-by-100 relay. He won the outstanding male athlete/leadership award in 2A.
■ Blake Burus, who helped Scott County win the 42nd District baseball title, signed with Campbellsville.
■ Micah Pugh, who averaged 16.5 points and seven rebounds for Conner, will play college hoops at Thomas More.