Just like the top horses are primed for Saturday's 139th Kentucky Derby, three of the state's top high school pitchers — all of them University of Kentucky signees — are in top form heading into the two-week home stretch of baseball's regular season.
Senior left-handers Hunter Green of Warren East and Logan Salow of Ashland Blazer, and senior right-hander Clinton Hollon of Woodford County, have posted impressive numbers this spring.
Green is 3-1 in nine starts, but Warren East Coach Wes Sanford blames a lack of run support for Green's so-so record. Green has pitched great: 101 strikeouts and 30 walks in 46 innings. He has allowed just one earned run and that came in his first outing. He has an 0.15 ERA. Last season, Green struck out 111 of the 221 batters he faced. "He's filling up the zone a lot more after struggling with walks last year," Sanford said. "He's got a lot better command of all his pitches." Green's fastball is consistently in the high 80s. Sanford has also been impressed by the way Green hasn't been distracted by the steady stream of scouts coming to watch him.
Salow didn't throw much early this spring because of soreness in his arm. But Coach Jeff Wilcox said the senior left-hander has picked things up lately, and has looked good on the mound. He's pitched 18 innings with 46 strikeouts and a 1.88 ERA. Last year, Salow had 120 K's in 56 innings and a 1.11 ERA. "He's improved the velocity on his fastball (mid-to-upper 80s) and the movement on it is incredible," Wilcox said. "He's getting his slider over, too." Salow leads Ashland with a .408 batting average, including nine doubles. Wilcox noted that Salow also played football and basketball for the Tomcats. "Once UK gets him and he concentrates on baseball, I think he'll really blossom." UK recruited him as a pitcher.
Hollon, whose fastball heats up to 96 mph, helped Woodford County win the state title last year after joining the team at mid-season. He went 5-0, including a pair of strong outings in the state tournament. Rated one of the nation's top prospects, Hollon is having a solid senior year. He has a 5-2 record, with 57 K's and 10 walks in 40 innings and an 0.88 ERA. His losses have been 1-0 to Central Hardin and 2-0 to Trinity.
There's a chance Hollon and Green could go high enough in the major-league draft that they might have to choose between UK and professional baseball.
■ Tates Creek junior shortstop Devin Hairston has decommitted from UK and reopened his baseball recruitment. Hairston wouldn't say why he changed his mind about playing for the Cats.
■ Lexington Christian Academy junior pitcher Lincoln Henzman, one of the top prospects in the state, was scheduled to have Tommy John surgery on his right (throwing) elbow this week. Henzman, who has scholarship offers from LSU and Louisville, will miss the rest of this baseball season, and next football season. (He played quarterback/receiver for LCA last fall). Henzman said his elbow injury had been "building up over a couple weeks." While warming up before a game at Lexington Catholic, he "felt a little pop" in his elbow. "I knew something wasn't right. It was not like a pain I'd ever had." Henzman tried to shake it off and pitched one inning against Lexington Catholic, but that was it. "I wasn't about to throw real hard and really screw it up." Henzman said he is "taking every positive" out of his situation. "I've heard great things about people who stay focused through the whole Tommy John process." The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Henzman, whose fastball was hitting 90 mph early this spring, hopes to pitch again for LCA next year. He'll be a cheerleader in the dugout the rest of this season.
■ Montgomery County hosts the Wood Bat Classic this weekend, giving participants a chance to swing something other than aluminum. Indians first-year coach Jonathan Hackett said his players hit with wood bats in the fall and winter to sharpen their hitting. "When you swing with a wood bat, you get immediate feedback on whether you hit it square or not. They're a little less forgiving than metal bats.Metal bats fool us into thinking we're better hitters than we really are." Boyle County, Lafayette and Mercer County will join Montgomery County for games Friday and Saturday. The Beaver Bat Company is supplying the bats.
■ The All "A" Classic state baseball tournament is this weekend at Whitaker Bank Ballpark. Saturday's quarterfinals: Newport Central Catholic vs. Glasgow, 10 a.m.; Heath vs. Hazard, noon; Prestonsburg vs. Bethlehem, 2:30 p.m.; Whitefield Academy vs. Danville, 4:30. Sunday's semifinals are at 8:30 and 10:30 a.m., followed by the championship game at 1 p.m.
■ Asbury senior outfielder Casey Messner (Lexington Catholic) earned first-team All-KIAC honors. Messner hit .368 and had 45 runs. Also making first-team all-conference was IU-Southeast catcher/pitcher Louie Helmburg (West Jessamine), Berea catcher/pitcher Ryan Akins (Paul Laurence Dunbar), and Berea infielders Austin Hunt (Madison Central) and Blake Crowe (Estill County). Asbury shortstop Brandon Smith (Lafayette) earned Gold Glove honors.
■ Western Hills' track star Alisha Adair, a six-time state champion and the reigning Miss Kentucky Track and Field, announced she will attend UK, picking the Cats over Kansas and Murray State. Adair is a three-time state titlist in the 200 meters. Last year she swept the 100, 200 and 400, and also ran a leg of the first-place 4-by-400 relay to help Western Hills win the Class 2A state title.
■ When Marion County's No. 1 softball pitcher, Ashley Walls, was sidelined for the season with mononucleosis, Coach Todd Spalding turned to fifth-grader Haley Mattingly. She's more than held her own. She's 2-1, with the wins coming against Danville and Washington County. The loss was 4-3 to Adair County in nine innings.
■ Greenwood's top-ranked softball team continues to roll along relatively untested. The Gators took a 26-0 record into Thursday night's game against Warren East. They swept a doubleheader against Warren Central on Tuesday 28-0 and 18-0, and have outscored their opponents by a staggering 259-11 this season.
■ Dunbar senior guard Jordin Fender, a second-team All-City selection, will play college basketball at Transylvania. As a junior, Fender helped Dunbar reach the Sweet Sixteen semifinals.
■ Elaine Simpson, an All-City standout on Tates Creek's state championship soccer team last fall, will play college soccer at Hanover.
■ Conner quarterback Drew Barker, a prime recruiting target of new UK football coach Mark Stoops, will announce his college choice next Friday. UK, South Carolina and Tennessee are among the schools Barker is considering.
■ Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead, who was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the sixth round of the NFL Draft, is the son of former Clark County and Eastern Kentucky University standout Rick Burkhead. Two days after he was drafted, Rex visited the White House and met President Obama. Burkhead was in Washington with his 7-year-old friend, Jack Hoffman, a brain cancer patient who made national news when he had a 69-yard touchdown run in Nebraska's spring game.
■ Two weeks after resigning as girls' basketball coach at state runner-up Notre Dame, Nicole Levandusky was hired as coach at Cooper. She went 91-35 in four years at Notre Dame.
■ Bracken Robertson and Dillon Starks of Calloway County won the inaugural KHSAA Bass Fishing State Championship last week. Their catches totaled 34 pounds, four ounces. Robertson told the Murray Ledger & Times about the team's bait options. It might be the quote of the year in my high school sports book: "We were mostly flipping the bushes with a Strike King Rage Tail Lizard and a Charmers' Baits Timber Pups brush hog and either a pumpkin seed or watermelon color," Robertson said.
■ The 9th annual Boys' Adidas Appalachian Underclassman All-Star Classic is at Perry Central on Friday. There will be three basketball games, starting at 6 p.m. The Blue Chip finale at 9 will feature Camron Justice of Knott Central, and Braxton Beverly and Justin Johnson of Perry Central. For more information go to www.combsbrothersonkysports.com.
■ Pikeville senior Ray Kasongo, who made the Kentucky All-Stars team, will play basketball next season at St. John's Northwestern Military Academy in Delafield, Wis. The 6-foot-8, 240-pound Kasongo averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds this season.