Harrison County baseball coach Mac Whitaker notched his 1,000th victory this week, an eye-catching number to go with a bunch of other eye-catching numbers he has tallied in his 37-year career: 33 district titles, 21 region titles, nine sectional titles, four state titles, two state runner-up finishes, 23 consecutive 20-win seasons, and 15 30-win seasons.
"I'm honored and humbled," Whitaker said after becoming only the third coach in state history to reach 1,000 wins. "It's an amazing feat. And it means so much to have done it at one school, staying here and not shopping around to find the best team to coach. We home-grow 99 percent of our talent, and we've done pretty good with it."
Whitaker has been something of a polarizing figure in his days with the Thorobreds. His caustic coaching style isn't endearing (although he says he's mellowed in recent years), but his former players stand by him and the winning tradition he has forged on Harrison County's hilltop.
Whitaker is the first to say he's had lots of help in building one of the state's premier programs. Jimmy Whitaker, his brother, has been with him every pitch of the way. Ronnie Herrington was Mac's right-hand man for 27 years before he died in 2006. Eddie Feeback has been helping for more than a decade, and assumed a bigger role after Herrington's death. Feeback is a touchstone to Harrison County's humble beginnings. "When Eddie played for me in 1979-80, we didn't have enough uniforms to go around, so he had to dress in blue jeans," Whitaker said.
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Harrison County made its first big splash in 1984 when it reached the state finals. It lost a heartbreaker to East Carter on a walk-off home run. "At the time you wonder if you'll ever get back there again," Whitaker said. "And then, lo and behold, we had an unbelievable run and made a name for ourselves." The 'Breds were state runners-up again in 1987, and won state titles in 1993, 1997, 1998 and 2010.
Whitaker, who played for the 'Breds when they were coached by Don Snopek, his brother-in-law, takes pride in giving Cynthiana a championship program. "Being a small community, it's special to everybody," he said.
Whitaker, 61, is taking his future one season at a time, but he says he's healthy and still has "the fire" to compete. He's got a young team this year he's "got a lot to look forward to."
Harrison County will celebrate Whitaker's milestone victory as part of its Alumni Night on Friday on the hilltop.
■ Knott Central star Camron Justice, who'll be a leading contender for Mr. Basketball next season, committed to Vanderbilt last weekend. Justice said speculation during the season about Tennessee Coach Cuonzo Martin possibly leaving factored into his decision to dissolve his commitment to the Volunteers in February. Martin bolted for California after leading UT to the NCAA Elite Eight. "One really big thing with me when I picked a college was to make sure the coach that recruited me would be there to finish it out with me," Justice said. "That was in the back of my mind about (Martin). I feel Coach (Kevin) Stallings will stay at Vandy." Justice added that everything Vandy has to offer fits him perfectly.
■ In picking the Kentucky All-Stars boys' basketball team, Mason County Coach Chris O'Hearn wanted a specific type of player to take on Indiana in their two-game series in June. "Every year we're fighting an uphill battle against the athleticism and size of Indiana, so we wanted to get the biggest, strongest, most athletic guys we could," said O'Hearn, who'll coach the senior stars. The Kentucky roster includes 6-foot-8 Jackson Davis (Lafayette), 6-6 Justin Johnson (Perry Central), 6-6 Kelan Martin (Ballard), 6-6 Chris McCraw (Western) and 6-6 Chris Hudson (Hazard). Kentucky has additional size in 6-5 Jordan Green (Henry Clay), 6-4 Chris Porter-Bunton (Warren Central) and 6-4 Keon Williams (John Hardin) to go with guards Quentin Snider (Ballard), Christen Cunningham (Cordia), Tra Edwards (Hopkinsville) and Nick Ruthsatz (Covington Catholic). "We've got kids with great attitudes, too," O'Hearn said. "That's important because the only way we have a chance to compete with Indiana is to have kids who'll buy into playing hard on both ends of the court." Mr. Basketball finalists Trent Gilbert (Scott County) and Shane Hall (Johnson Central) did not attend the tryouts for the all-star team. Kentucky will play Indiana on June 13 at Transylvania, and on June 14 in Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Indiana will be led by Mr. Basketball (and UK signee) Trey Lyles.
■ McCreary Central senior left-hander Brad Strunk had 18 strikeouts in a 6-5 seven-inning victory over Williamsburg. Strunk also knocked in two runs with a single. McCreary Central's five errors led to Williamsburg's five unearned runs. Coach Marc Taylor said Strunk, who has just one win this spring, has been victimized by poor run support and shaky defense. He has 64 K's, 13 walks and a 1.57 earned run average in 40 innings.
■ University of Cincinnati redshirt freshman Colton Cleary (Lexington Catholic) retired 22 consecutive batters in a 3-1 loss to Rutgers last week. Cleary came on in relief with one out in the first. After the first two hitters reached on a single and an error, Cleary got 22 outs in a row, including five strikeouts.
■ Joe Blanton, Kentucky's Mr. Baseball in 1999 when he led Franklin-Simpson to the state semifinals, has retired from the majors. A first-round draft pick out of UK in 2002, Blanton pitched for the A's, Phillies, Dodgers and Angels. He had a 10-year record of 85-89 and helped the Phillies win the 2008 World Series. Three former Mr. Baseball winners are currently in the majors: Ben Revere (Lexington Catholic, 2007) with the Phillies; Collin Cowgill (Henry Clay, 2004) with the Angels, and Scott Downs (PRP, 1994) with the White Sox.
■ Lexington Catholic is starting a wrestling program and will compete on the varsity level in the 2014-15 school year, according to Athletic Director Kevin Bruggeman. When Lexington Catholic hired Lexington Christian boys' basketball coach Brad Carter as its first full-time athletic director for next school year, people wondered about Bruggeman. He's not going anywhere. Bruggeman was offered the full-time AD job but turned it down. He wants to continue to teach and coach football. He'll also be associate AD.
■ Corbin is looking to fill its football coaching position. Steve Jewell, who led the Redhounds the last 15 years, stepped down last month to become assistant principal. He had an overall record of 141-55, including a state runner-up finish in 2002.
■ Former Fairview football coach Nathan McPeek is moving to Atlanta where he'll be associate head coach/offensive line coach at Tucker High School.
■ Sarah Cooley, who helped Lafayette reach the girls' Sweet Sixteen for the first time in 30 years, signed with Canisius, a Division I school in Buffalo, N.Y.
■ Newport Central Catholic's Nicole Kiernan, a Miss Basketball finalist, has committed to Thomas More.
■ Chandler Sneed and Dylan Lancaster of Lexington Christian have signed to play football at Centre.
■ Henry Clay's college signees: Elle Barnett, volleyball (South Florida State); Kamari Boyd, basketball (Midway); Olivia Burchett, swimming (Rhodes); Mark Dill, baseball (Centre); Madison Grant and Alison Miller, golf (Centre); Shae Henry, tennis (Georgetown); Sydney Short, volleyball (Berea); Lauren Stigers, swimming (Pepperdine).
■ Ben Pallardy (Lexington Catholic) was a freshman on Lindenwood University's bowling team that won the Intercollegiate Team Championship in Reno, Nev., last week. Lindenwood is an NCAA Division II school in St. Charles, Mo.
■ The second annual KHSAA Bass Fishing State Championship, involving 46 teams, will be held Friday and Saturday at the Kentucky Dam Marina in Gilbertsville. Calloway County is defending champ.
■ The 27th annual Dawahares/KHSAA Hall of Fame banquet is Sunday afternoon at the Lexington Center. This year's inductees: former athletes Fred Bishop (Pine ville), Jeff Brohm (Trinity), Caroline Burckle (Sacred Heart), Sonny Collins (Madisonville), Ukari Figgs (Scott County), Don Frye (Monticello), Derek Homer (Fort Knox), Brooke Marnitz (Paul Laurence Dunbar) and Russell Miracle (Bell County); officiating pioneer Barbara Ann Isaac, and media contributor Mike Fields (Lexington Herald-Leader).