FRANKFORT — Tates Creek finally got tested in the 11th Region baseball tournament, and the Commodores aced the test thanks in large part to their ace, Tanner Hart.
After breezing by Berea and Western Hills by a combined score of 32-3 in the first two rounds of the region, No. 1 Tates Creek had to claw its way past No. 23 Madison Central 2-1 in the finals at Western Hills Friday night.
The victory earned the Commodores a repeat region title — the first time they've done that in 36 years — and a spot in next week's Rawlings/KHSAA State Tournament.
Tates Creek (33-6-1) will play the 15th Region champ Tuesday night at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
Hart, a senior right-hander, was clutch on the mound against Madison Central.
After pitching two scoreless innings before the title game was suspended Thursday night, Hart came back even sharper 22 hours later.
"Honestly, I think my arm felt better today than it did yesterday," he said. "My velocity might not have been there today, but I was hitting my spots. I just felt like I was in a groove from the first pitch. It was crazy."
Hart scattered four hits, struck out seven and walked one to run his record to 10-0 and lower his ERA to 1.24.
Madison Central Coach Steve Roof saluted Hart: "He was great. He was pounding the zone low and away."
As terrific as Hart was in going the distance, Madison Central was nearly as effective in using five pitchers to stymie Tates Creek.
Alex Georgel, Austin Templeton, Kyle Kelsey, Zach Voll and Jeremy Lakes took turns frustrating the Commodores.
Tates Creek stranded eight baserunners in the first three innings. It finally broke through in the fourth when Luke Rouse and Turner Gentry, pinch-running for Hart, scored on wild pitches.
"That definitely lifted a burden," Rouse said. '"After we got those two runs, Tanner told me in the dugout, 'That's all I need.' I put all my trust in him on the mound."
Madison Central got its run in the fifth when Nick Kavanaugh doubled, moved to third on a groundout and scored on a throwing error.
But that's all the Indians could muster against Hart. His defense was nearly flawless behind him. In the fourth, shortstop Devin Hairston cut down a runner at third, and catcher Max Sweet threw out a runner trying to steal second.
"It's unbelievable what this defense can do," Hart said. "It amazes me every day."
In the seventh, Madison Central's Jonah Kelsey singled with one out, and Kavanaugh came to the plate with a chance to tie it.
Tates Creek ended the threat in style. Kavanaugh grounded to second and the Commodores turned a slick 4-6-3 (Curtis Bethel to Hairston to Jordan Fucci) double play to end the game.
"I loved it," Hairston said. "Defense has been one our strong suits all season, so to finish the regional with a double play was great."
Tates Creek Coach Dom Fucci said he thought his team "looked antsy tonight, but we got the hits and runs when we needed them. It was a grind-it-out game. Madison Central did a great job. They gave us all we wanted."
Roof praised his young team — the Indians' lineup included four juniors and four sophomores — for "executing the game plan." He also credited pitching coach Nick Barte for molding a staff that had a 1.50 ERA this season.
"That is why we're here," Roof said.
Madison Central was a decided underdog against Tates Creek, but it came close to pulling the upset.
"We battled to the end," Roof said. "We were exactly where we wanted to be — we had a shot at the end."
Madison Central 000 010 0—1 4 1
Tates Creek 000 200 x—2 7 1
Alex Georgel, Austin Templeton (2), Kyle Kelsey (3), Zach Voll (4) Jeremy Lakes (4) and Cory Mullins. Tanner Hart and Max Sweet. 2B--Luke Rouse (TC), Jaren Shelby (TC), Hart (TC), Nick Kavanaugh (MC).
Records—Madison Central 29-9; Tates Creek 33-6-1
All-tournament—Tanner Hart (MVP), Devin Hairston, Luke Rouse, Blake Rose of Tates Creek; Jeremy Lakes, Ben Morin, Joseph Holbrook of Madison Central; Thomas Bennett, Zack Barker of Western Hills; Tanner Blankenship, Chase Martin of Scott County; Taylor Henley of Lexington Catholic; Sam Jiunta of Henry Clay; Quenton Brownlee of Franklin County; Gabe Long of Berea.