Madison Central won the 11th Region baseball title for the first time in 22 years by beating host Henry Clay 8-2 Saturday night, but it was a victory that began to take shape 366 days ago.
When Madison Central lost to Tates Creek 2-1 in the region finals last year at Western Hills, Coach Steve Roof saw right away his players' determination to grab the prize the next time around.
"On the bus ride home you could just see it," Roof said. "And you could see it every day in the fall, and all during winter workouts.
"This was our goal, we had a great group of seniors who'd been there before, and we knew they were going to get this done."
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Jeremy Lakes, who threw a complete-game three-hitter against Henry Clay, said the Indians "turned the page" after the loss to Tates Creek.
"We knew it wasn't going to happen two years in a row. This was our last year and we knew we had to get it done."
Madison Central (33-6) will play 8th Region champ Collins (24-11) in the first round of the Rawlings/ KHSAA State Tournament on Monday night at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
The region was originally scheduled to be over Wednesday, but bad weather and graduation schedules ultimately pushed the finals back to Saturday.
That turned out to be fortunate for Madison Central because it allowed Lakes, who threw five innings in a first-round victory over Woodford County, plenty of rest so he could come back against Henry Clay.
The senior righthander was terrific against the Blue Devils. He gave up three hits, struck out three and walked one.
"He's pretty much our go-to guy," catcher Cory Mullins said. "I believe it was mainly adrenalin working for him today."
Lakes said he "felt great" coming into the game. "I was pumped and ready. I was definitely 100 percent."
The Indians didn't flinch when Henry Clay took a 2-0 lead in the top of the third. Sam Jiunta singled and Cameron Lord homered.
"When I gave up that ball, I knew they had my back," Lake said of his teammates.
Mullins said Lord's homer "put an extra chip on our shoulder. We were fully 'go' after that."
Madison Central answered with seven hits and six runs in the bottom of the third.
Isaac Swafford ripped a two-run double. Mullins, Seth Richardson, Josh Wright and Ben Morin also collected RBI.
"We punched first, and they responded," Henry Clay Coach Jordan Tarrence said. "That's what good teams do."
Tarrence noted that his pitcher, Ray Hukill, was victimized by some bad luck.
Three balls that could have been outs were hits. A grounder that might have been a double play took a high bounce over the second baseman's head. Henry Clay's left-fielder almost made a running catch in the gap, but the ball glanced off his glove and went for a double. And a line drive up the middle hit the top of the glove of a Devils' infielder. Two other grounders were seeing-eye singles.
Tarrence told his players "that's what makes baseball the greatest game in the world, and what makes it the cruelest game."
The Indians added two runs in the fourth. Wright had an RBI double, and Morin singled in Joe Holbrook.
Holbrook, Wright, Nick Kavanaugh and Morin each had two hits.
Lakes didn't allow Henry Clay a hit after the third inning, and the defense was flawless behind him.
Roof credited long-time assistants Nick Barte and David Withers for overseeing the pitching staff and defense.
"That's been our strengths all year," Roof said.
Madison Central doesn't get much down time before the state tournament, but Lakes said it won't be a problem.
"We'll be prepared. We'll come out Monday and do the same thing."
As for Henry Clay, which started the season 5-12, Tarrence saw his team finish strong and come up just one win shy of the Devils' first region title since 2000.
"Those guys will be old men before they realize how proud of them we are as coaches," Tarrence said.
Madison Central 8, Henry Clay 2
Henry Clay 002 000 0—2 3 2
Madison Central 006 200 x—8 11 0
Ray Hukill, Lindon May (3), Luke Wilson (4), Ben Rider (5) and Trevor Hammonds. Jeremy Lakes and Cory Mullins. 2B—Aaron McGeorge (HC), Isaac Swafford (MC), Josh Wright (MC). HR—Cameron Lord (HC).
Records: Madison Central 33-6, Henry Clay 17-21.
All-tournament team: Jeremy Lakes, Josh Wright, Cory Mullins, Nick Kavanaugh of Madison Central; Aaron McGeorge, Cameron Lord, Blake Urbanek of Henry Clay; Andrew Barker, Ty Stephens of LCA; Aidan Elias, Christian Courtney of Sayre; C.J. Compton of Lafayette; Brandon Tudor of Model; Jesse Howard of Western Hills; Morgan Sheets of Woodford County.