Johnson Central didn't so much as blink in its face-off with No. 1 Tates Creek in the first round of the Rawlings/KHSAA State Baseball Tournament on Tuesday night.
The Golden Eagles jumped ahead 2-0 in their first at-bat and never trailed on their way to a stunning 8-4 upset at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
"This is the first time I've ever been here, and to beat a team like Tates Creek is out of this world," said Johnson Central senior first baseman Chaynse Hill.
"We knew we had nothing to lose. We're from the 15th Region, so they don't look at us like a team that matters down here. So we came out, gave it our best and this is what happens."
Golden Eagles Coach Shawn Hall called the victory "amazing," but he wasn't shocked that his team rose to the challenge.
"Coming in we knew we were playing a great team, the No. 1 team in the state," he said. "We just had to compete, put the ball in play and try to keep their big hitters from killing the ball.
"We were the underdogs, but we knew Tates Creek had to suit up, make plays and hit the baseball. Our guys were confident that we had a chance."
It was a nightmare revisited for Tates Creek, which lost to Collins 6-4 in the first round last year.
The Commodores vowed things would be different this time around as they set their sights on the school's fourth state championship.
But as Tates Creek Coach Dom Fucci admitted, Johnson Central outplayed them.
"Give Johnson Central credit. They made some nice defensive plays, they hit the ball, and our base-runninng cost us a few times.
"Johnson Central deserved to win."
Tates Creek's plan was to save undefeated ace Tanner Hart for a later game, so Noah Stone, who beat Lexington Catholic in the district and Western Hills in the region (both mercy-rule victories), got the start.
Johnson Central scored two off Stone in the first. A Tates Creek error and a walk aided the Eagles, and Bo Robbins delivered a clutch two-out single to drive in Juwan Mayes and Jordan Young.
The Commodores got single runs in the first, second and third and the game was tied 3-3 before the Golden Eagles broke it open with five runs in the fifth off reliever Tanner McCoy.
Zach Slone was hit by a pitch and Mayes singled to get the rally going. Young singled in Slone. Geordan Blanton reached on a bunt, and Austin Davis singled to drive in two runs.
Fucci, realizing his team was in deep trouble, went to Hart in relief. It didn't help. Hill blooped a single to right that chased home two more runs to make it 8-3.
The disastrous inning was familiar to Tates Creek.
Commodores senior shortstop Devin Hairston, who had three hits, a run and an RBI, compared it to last year's state tournament loss when Collins got all six of its runs in the second inning.
"You've gotta avoid those big innings this time of year," Hairston said.
Johnson Central got solid pitching from starter Seth Blanton, a junior who went three innings and gave up four hits and three runs.
Tate Meade, an eighth-grader, worked the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, giving up two hits and one run.
"He's been huge for us all year," Hall said. "He was 7-0 coming in. Nothing fazes him. Like Coach Cal's philosophy, you play talent. Tate's got it."
The Commodores didn't have a five-run rally in them.
They got a run in the fifth on Jordan Fucci's RBI double.
Tates Creek threatened in the sixth with two on and nobody out. But Hill made a nifty double play at first to blunt any comeback.
Fucci also doubled off the right-field wall in the seventh off closer Quade Ward. But Fucci ran up behind Hairston, who had slowed to see if the ball was going to be caught. When Hairston tried to get to third, he was thrown out.
Did the Commodores tighten up as the game went along?
"I don't think so," Hairston said. "I felt we kept our composure and played intense. They just hit the ball where we weren't. That happens. That's baseball, and we have to accept it.
"We're going to tip our caps to Johnson Central. They did a good job."
JOHNSON CENTRAL 8, TATES CREEK 4
Johnson Central 210 050 0—8 10 1
Tates Creek 111 010 0—4 8 2
Seth Blanton, Tate Meade (4), Quade Ward (7) and Blake Gamble. Noah Stone, Tanner McCoy (2), Tanner Hart (5) and Max Sweet. 2B—Luke Rouse (TC), Devin Hairston (TC), Chaynse Hill (JC), Matt Neal (TC), Jordan Fucci, 2 (TC).
Records: Johnson Central 31-10; Tates Creek 33-7-1