Hazard baseball coach John Meehan can keep his bushy beard for at least another couple days after the Bulldogs knocked off No. 6 McCracken County 5-1 in the Rawlings/KHSAA State Tournament opener Monday at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
Sophomore left-hander Griffin Wells tamed the Mustangs with a spot-on breaking ball. He threw a complete-game four-hitter, striking out seven and walking two.
Hazard's small-ball offense included three squeeze-bunt runs, and was aided by four McCracken County errors.
Meehan did his part by continuing to shun a razor.
Taking a cue from the World Series champion Boston Red Sox, Meehan started growing a beard in January, hoping it'd bring Hazard some luck this spring.
It must be working. His hairy face hasn't been able to hide his wide smile lately.
The Bulldogs won the 14th Region for the first time in 10 years, and their surprising victory over McCracken County puts them in the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2001.
Was Hazard's win over the Mustangs an upset?
"Absolutely," Meehan said. "We're the smallest school by far in this tournament. We're a 300-student body. Look at the rest of the schools here."
The Bulldogs are also the youngest team, with a lineup that includes five sophomores and three freshmen.
They made it to Whitaker Bank Ballpark on Derby Day for the Touchstone Energy All "A" Classic, but lost to Beechwood 12-2. Wells started that game, too, but didn't last.
What was the difference one month later?
"We've grown up," Meehan said. "Everybody knows that in baseball it just takes time."
Wells kept McCracken County's bats pretty quiet all day.
"I just tried to throw strikes and trust my team to make plays, and they did," Wells said. "My curveball isn't always working, but today it was working."
Mustangs Coach Geno Miller said Wells was "phenomenal. He did a great job keeping us off balance."
Wells seemed calm and collected after Hazard's biggest baseball win in more than a decade.
"That's just Griffin," Meehan said. "He's real cool. There's nothing big to him.
"He started at first base for us here in the All 'A' when he was a seventh-grader, so he's been in these kind of games before."
Hazard squeezed in three of its runs against McCracken County. In the first inning, Ryan Smith bunted in J.T. Haynes. In the sixth, Coby Cumbow bunted in Blake Nidiffer and, two batters later, Haynes squeezed in Rudy Akemon.
"We bunt all year long," Meehan said. "We instill in them that it's one of the most important things in baseball. If you can bunt you'll win some games."
The Bulldogs got their other two runs in the third on two-out singles by Nidiffer and Akemon.
Haynes, one of Hazard's two senior starters, explained the Bulldogs' secret to success against McCracken County:
"We wanted to come down here, have fun, play ball, and don't be happy just to be down here. Be happy to win."
Hazard 5, McCracken Co. 1
McCracken Co. 010 000 0—1 4 4
Hazard 102 002 x—5 6 1
Preston Frommeyer, Cole Womack (3) and Derek Schneider. Griffin Wells and Cole Ratliff. WP—Wells. LP—Frommeyer. 2B—Keegan Breese, 2 (MC).
Records—McCracken Co. 31-9; Hazard 27-13.