A few observations on the Forcht Bank/KHSAA State Baseball Tournament from the toasty open-air press box at Applebee's Park. (It beats the frigid open-air ice box at Western Kentucky University's L.T. Smith Stadium where the football finals were played in December.)
■ The new "Sweet Sixteen" baseball format seems to be a hit with the fans. KHSAA commissioner Julian Tackett said he hoped the event would average between 2,000 and 3,000 spectators a session. Going into Thursday night's quarterfinals, the event was averaging 2,747 a session. Harrison County has had the most fans, and if the Thorobreds make the title game, attendance for the week could eclipse 24,000.
■ Talking to coaches across the state this spring, the general consensus was that this wasn't an especially strong year for high school baseball. Maybe that explains the 40 errors in the first round of the state tournament. From 2005 to '09, when there were seven state tournament games, the errors totaled 25, 26, 26, 21 and 24.
■ Butler senior lefty Kyle McGrath had 16 strikeouts in Monday's victory over Boone County. That was the most K's for a pitcher in the tournament since Lafayette's Curtis Whitney fanned 17 in a 14-2 victory over Elizabethtown in the 1992 finals. Pleasure Ridge Park's Scott Downs had 15 K's in a 3-1 win over Lexington Catholic in the 1994 semifinals.
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■ Batters used to have to try to avoid getting hit by a pitch or they wouldn't get a free pass to first base. Umpires don't enforce that rule anymore. In the first round of the state tournament, 23 batters were hit by pitches, and more than half could have easily sidestepped the ball.
■ Male Coach Todd Driskell doesn't like the new 16-team format. He preferred the best-of-three semi-states because they showcased high school stadiums, and generated good money for the hosts. The best-of-three semi-states also put a premium on developing a deep pitching staff, which was a good thing.
■ Greenup County senior catcher Jeremy Barr saw familiar faces when the Musketeers beat Central Hardin in the state tournament. Barr grew up in Elizabethtown and played baseball and football at Central Hardin before his family moved midway through his junior year. "It was exciting and strange," Barr said of facing his former school. "Going through the region, what were the chances we'd play my old teammates at state?" Beating them prompted mixed emotions. "I was happy we were moving on, but there was a little bit of a bad feeling too, because that's where I grew up."
■ Daviess County junior outfielder Austin Moser came to the state tournament with no hits in 16 at-bats this season. But he made the most of his chance in the Panthers' first-round win over Hopkinsville. Leading off the seventh inning as a pinch hitter, Moser stroked a solid single.
■ I'm not the first to raise the question, but it's a good one: Why does the KHSAA spread a 16-team, single-elimination baseball tournament over six days after it squeezes a 16-team, double-elimination softball tournament into two days?
■ If it seems odd to crown the state high school baseball champ closer to July 4th than Memorial Day, you're not alone. "We're finishing our championships way too late," said KHSAA commissioner Julian Tackett. "Other states look at us like we're crazy. I think maybe we need to look at that."
Gaines Miss Softball
■ South Laurel star Emily Gaines has been named Miss Softball, and Gatorade's Kentucky player of the year. The UK signee hit .634 with 17 home runs and 63 RBI, and had a 19-2 pitching record with a 0.68 ERA. She struck out 94 batters in 113 innings. Gaines holds state career records for hits (345) and doubles (104), and single-season records for hits (83) and doubles (27). She also set a state record with a 52-game hitting streak.
■ Fast-pitch softball was a popular sport in Western Kentucky long before it came into vogue in the rest of the state. And the rest of the state is still playing catch-up. Led by MVP Cassee Layne, Reidland, a Class A school in Paducah, won its third state title last week. Western Kentucky teams have won 12 of the 16 fast-pitch championships. The exceptions: Manual (twice), North Laurel and Ryle.
■ Arkansas hitting star Zack Cox, who led Pleasure Ridge Park to the 2007 state title and was Mr. Baseball, was taken by the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round (25th pick) in last week's draft. Cox, who has helped the Razorbacks to the NCAA super regional, is hitting .429 with 67 runs and 48 RBI.
■ Boyle County baseball alums Blake Perry and Patrick Cooper were taken in last week's draft. Perry, a pitcher who's committed to UK, has been at IMG Academy in Florida the last two years. He was taken in the sixth round by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Cooper, also a pitcher, was picked in the 12th round by the Detroit Tigers. He played as a freshman at EKU before transferring to Des Moines (Iowa) Community College. He moved on to Bradley University where he played this spring.
■ David Vicini, a 2005 Lexington Catholic grad, closed out his baseball career at Austin Peay by pitching one perfect inning in the Governors' win over UT-Martin. Vicini played this year after missing last season with an injury. He had 87 career appearances, second-most in Austin Peay history. He logged 172 innings on the mound and had 119 K's. An honor student, he has earned a Master's in business management.
■ Former Somerset football coach Jay Cobb is the new coach at Campbellsville. He was 82-48 in 11 years at Somerset before resigning prior to the 2009 season. Campbellsville superintendent Mike Deaton contacted Cobb about the Eagles' job. Deaton's son Ross played quarterback for Cobb at Somerset a few years ago.
■ Ouch! Steve Gorches, a columnist with the Post-Tribune in Gary, Ind., wrote that the Kentucky-Indiana all-star basketball series should be discontinued because "Kentucky just isn't worthy anymore." Gorches points out that the Hoosiers have won 22 of the last 25 boys' games. He suggested that Indiana try to replace Kentucky with Ohio or Illinois in the summer series. Kentucky hasn't done much to hold up its end of the rivalry recently, either with wins or fan support. Last week's boys' and girls' games attracted about 2,000 spectators to Bellarmine's Knights Hall. The games in Indianapolis' Conseco Fieldhous drew only 6,000 fans, far below what they drew in the good ol' days.
■ Boys' state basketball champ Shelby Valley promoted Greg Newsome to head coach. He had been an assistant to Jason Booher, who left to take over at Holmes. Newsome, whose son Tyler was a senior starter on Shelby Valley's title team, has deep roots in Pike County. He played in the state tournaments for Virgie in the late 1970s, and was a Virgie assistant under Bobby Osborne for 12 years. Newsome was instrumental in forging Shelby Valley's championship team. He coached Mr. Basketball Elisha Justice and his teammates in middle school and AAU. "I call them 'my boys,'" Newsome said. "What they did was a dream come true." Newsome said it may take a few years to rebuild, but he expects the Wildcats to be strong again when a talented eighth-grade class rises through the system.
■ Lawrence County's new boys' coach is Dave Miller, a former assistant at Ashland Blazer and former head coach at Carroll County.
■ Hopkinsville boys' coach Jim Simmons is leaving to become athletic director at Graves County. Simmons taught and coached at Graves County for 15 years before leaving for Hoptown, where he's been the past four years.
■ Marshall County has hired Joseph Simmons as its girls' basketball coach. He has a tough act to follow. Howard Beth retired as the state's all-time winningest girls' coach (793 victories, two state championships, 19 region titles). Simmons, 30, had been an assistant men's coach at Wallace State (Ala.). He's never coached girls.
■ The Kentucky Football Coaches Association's annual summer clinic will be at Centre College June 24-25. Guest speakers will be UK's Joker Phillips, Louisville's Charlie Strong, EKU's Dean Hood, Murray State's Chris Hatcher, WKU's Willie Taggart, Texas Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown and Centre's coaching staff. For details go to www.kfca.info.
■ Volunteer State softball star Abbey Stepp, a Woodford County grad, was named a first-team junior college All-American. Stepp, a catcher, hit .526 with 14 homers and 87 RBI this season. She has signed with Jacksonville State, which has won the Ohio Valley Conference the past three years.