Dreams of a lucrative pro contract motivate some high school baseball players to work on their skills and dedicate themselves to the game.
That's nothing new.
While researching past state baseball tournaments, I came across a story that appeared in the Lexington Herald in June 1963. It quoted Pittsburgh Pirates scout J.H. Wynn as saying he had followed the Kentucky state baseball tournament since 1946, and he thought the 1963 event was the best ever in quality of play. "High school boys know that the big money is in the major leagues, and therefore are taking more interest in the game," Wynn said. Side note: In 1963, Yankees star Mickey Mantle made $100,000, the highest salary of his career. In today's world, Mantle could make $15 million a year and be a bargain.
■ Before high school rules were adopted in the last 20 years to limit the number of innings a pitcher could work, it wasn't uncommon for coaches to ride one kid's arm to glory. In 1963, for example, Holmes won the state title behind the dominant pitching of Gary Sargent. The junior left-hander worked four innings in a quarterfinal victory over McDowell, came back the next afternoon to go the distance in an eight-inning semifinal win over Flaget, then a few hours later pitched seven innings to beat Lone Oak in the finals. Sargent worked 19 innings in 36 hours, gave up one earned run and had 28 strikeouts. Holmes had 23 victories that season, and Sargent had 15 of the wins.
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■ Bart Roettger was an assistant coach on Paul Laurence Dunbar's 2003 and 2007 state championship teams, so he's been involved in some riveting baseball. But Roettger, now head coach at Shelby County, said the Rockets' 11-inning 10-9 victory over Anderson County in the 8th Region finals was "probably the best game I've ever been part of. It was absolutely amazing." Shelby County had 18 hits; Anderson County had 17. The Rockets came from three down in the sixth inning to tie it on Eric Standafer's home run, and they rallied for three runs in the bottom of the 11th to win it. Standafer had the decisive RBI hit. "These guys have a never-quit attitude," Roettger said. "We've had three walk-off wins in our last four games. It's truly been an amazing ride."
■ Only five teams that were in the final regular-season top 25 are in the state tournament: No. 4 West Jessamine, No. 6 Lexington Christian, No. 8 Harrison County, No. 16 Male and No. 20 Central Hardin. Butler, which won the 6th Region, made a few appearances in the coaches' poll, but wasn't in the last one. Bears Coach Greg Lauder said he doesn't put much stock in the poll. "A lot of the voting is based on reputation and tradition and strictly hearsay," he said.
■ Perry County Central has made it to the final stage of the baseball playoffs for the first time, but Commodores Coach Bobby Dixon has been this far before. He was M.C. Napier's starting first baseman when it played in the 1987 final four in Elizabethtown. Dixon has a not-so-pleasant memory from the Navajos' 13-2 semifinal loss to eventual champ Owensboro. After teammates Jeff Jones and John Carroll opened the top of the first with singles, Dixon followed with a bunt that Owensboro turned into a 1-6-3 triple play. "Not something I like to remember," Dixon said. "I may be the only guy to hit into a triple play in the final four."
■ Five coaches in next week's state tournament have won state titles. Mac Whitaker has three championships at Harrison County. LCA's Keith Galloway has one, as does West Jessamine's Jody Hamilton, who led Boyd County to a title. It's not in the Kentucky record books, but Lone Oak's Geno Miller and Hopkinsville's Randy Harrell have won state titles, too — in Tennessee. Miller led Covington, Tenn., to the top in 2006. Harrell led Munford, Tenn., to a championship in 2001. Harrell went on to coach at Lambuth University and Northside High in Jackson, Tenn., before leaving baseball. He got into pharmaceutical sales, which he soon realized didn't suit him. When the Hopkinsville job came open last fall, he jumped at the chance to return to baseball. "I'm not a Kentucky fan at all, but I came across the (state) line." he said with a laugh. "At least we wear the right color (orange) at Hopkinsville." Miller has no loyalty to the Volunteers. He's from Alabama and describes himself as a "huge 'Bama fan."
■ Hopkinsville's Justin Hageman, who has signed with Western Kentucky, is one of the most versatile players in the state. He has played every position this spring, with the exception of second base. A standout pitcher, he's 9-1 with 127 strikeouts and 22 walks in 70 innings. He's given up only three earned runs all season. In the 2nd Region finals, he threw a five-hit shutout and had 15 K's against Henderson County. He's also a star hitter. Hageman is batting .481 with 10 homers and 35 RBI. "He's the real deal," Coach Randy Harrell said.
■ Pikeville Coach Steve Priode played at Paintsville 30 years ago under the late and legendary Charlie Adkins. "I use his words almost every day, talking to my batters at the plate," Priode said. "His philosophy was to hit the fastball, so I say the same thing. The thing about him was, he made you play the game the right way."
■ LCA center fielder Lucas Witt, who's helped the Eagles reach the state tournament, was taken by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 38th round in this week's draft. Witt is hitting .468 with 40 runs and 21 RBI. Apparently, mlb.com knows Witt led LCA to a state football title last fall. That Web site reported that "Witt committed to play quarterback for the University of Kentucky." Witt, in fact, signed to play baseball for the Cats.
■ Henry Clay grad Patrick Brady, who had an outstanding career at Bellarmine, was drafted in the 48th round by Seattle and was expected to sign with the Mariners on Thursday night.
■ Trinity pitcher and UK signee Corey Littrell's final season stats: 9-3 record, 1.90 ERA, 101 K's in 78 innings. He also hit .333 with 31 runs and 15 RBI. Littrell was taken by the Washington Nationals in the 43rd round of the draft this week, so it's an easy decision for him to play college ball at UK.
■ Danville center fielder/pitcher Duran Elmore's final season stats: .448 batting average, 54 runs, 27 RBI, 40 stolen bases. He had a 9-2-1 pitching record, 0.99 ERA, 135 K's in 73 innings.
■ Wolfe County catcher Dylan Creech had a terrific freshman season. He batted .664 (79-for-119) with a state-record 99 RBI and led the Wolves to a school-record 27 wins. A varsity player at Breathitt County as a seventh-grader and at Wolfe County as an eighth-grader, Creech already has 151 hits and 159 RBI in his career. Wolfe County senior Zach Sallie was hit by a pitch a state-record 51 times in his career.
■ Henderson County senior catcher Kyle Gibson, a Louisville signee, finished the season with a .485 average, 20 homers, 67 RBI and 61 runs. He struck out only 12 times in 161 plate appearances. Henderson County had a school-record 51 homers.
■ Kentucky and Indiana renew their all-star basketball rivalry this weekend, with boys' and girls' games in Louisville Friday night and the rematches in Indianapolis on Saturday night. The Hoosiers have dominated the boys' series over the past 10 years, winning 17 of the last 20 games. Kentucky, led by Mr. Basketball Elisha Justice, is a decided underdog again this year. The bad news is that Indiana expects to have one of best teams ever next year. The Hoosiers' junior all-stars showed their stuff a few nights ago when they beat the Indiana All-Stars 92-78. Marquis Teague, who has committed to UK, had 15 points and five assists. Kentucky's girls, led by Miss Basketball Sarah Beth Barnette, will also be trying to reverse their fortunes against the Hoosiers. Indiana's girls have won 14 of the past 20 games.
■ Get-well-soon wishes to Gary Kidwell, a former Lewis County coach and longtime newspaper and radio sports guy who will be inducted into the Dawahares/KHSAA Hall of Fame next year. Kidwell was among those injured last week when a staircase collapsed at the Lewis County Public Schools' central offices in Vanceburg. Kidwell was air-lifted to Huntington, W.Va., where he was treated for five broken ribs and a bruised back. He said he was unable to write his weekly sports column (Kidwell's Korner) for the Lewis County Herald for the first time in 35 years. He is at home recuperating.
■ Henry Clay will host the second annual iHigh Fayette County Football Frenzy in a couple months. Aug. 27: Boone County vs. Henry Clay, 6 p.m.; Louisville Butler vs. Bryan Station, 9. Aug. 28: Shelby County vs. Tates Creek, 3 p.m.; Mercer County vs. Paul Laurence Dunbar, 6; Louisville Central vs. Lafayette, 9.
■ West Jessamine's Arin Gilliland was named to Parade magazine's girls' All-American soccer team. Louisville Trinity's Lepe Seetane and Atherton's Andrew Farrell made the boys' team.
■ The fifth annual Northeastern Kentucky East-West all-star football game is June 18 at Morehead State's Jayne Stadium. Kickoff is 7:30. Lawrence County's Luke Salmons and Bath County's Reed Fields are the head coaches. Admission is $10.
■ Sarah Fletcher of Paul Laurence Dunbar and Mike Holmes of Bourbon County will swim for Transylvania.
■ Clay County has named assistant Robert Marcum its new boys' basketball coach. He succeeds Kevin Spurlock, who left to become coach at Sheldon Clark. Marcum was a three-year starter for Clay County in the early 1990s, and has been an assistant coach the last five years.