The Fayette County Invitational annually brings some of the state’s best high school baseball teams to Lexington for a weekend-long showcase hosted by the city’s five public schools. Regardless of where they end up spending their day, fans typically get a big bang for their buck.
I attempted to take in four games at four different sites — Elizabethtown at Paul Laurence Dunbar, Greenup County vs. Madison Central at Lafayette, Ballard at Henry Clay and North Laurel at Bryan Station — on Saturday (due to a team dropping out, Tates Creek only hosted games on Friday). What follows is a diary of the day, with commentary from coaches and players made after the games interspersed throughout.
9:27 a.m.: I wake up to the sound of heavy rain. It ends quickly, but text messages from multiple coaches confirm their schedules have been pushed back at least 30 minutes. Temperatures are expected to be in the 50s all day.
10:18: A chicken McGriddle and a hash brown at McDonald’s, where I learn the start of Dunbar-Elizabethtown has been moved from 11 a.m. to noon.
10:52: Dozens of cars are already in the Dunbar parking lot. A couple of Elizabethtown fans suggest the Bulldogs’ bleachers could use a fresh coat of paint.
12:02 p.m.: Players, coaches and fans stand for the national anthem, but it is missing from the music setlist. One press-box companion suggests the P.A. announcer sing it. He doesn’t. The game also starts without a second umpire, who has yet to arrive.
12:06: Louisville commit Hunter Sullivan comes up with the game’s first hit for Elizabethtown. The right-handed senior made his second start on the mound after season-ending Tommy John surgery last April. “He made his first start the week before last against CAL (Louisville Christian), but he’s thrown in relief,” Elizabethtown Coach Don Pitts said. “This was probably his seventh appearance.”
12:21: Big and Rich’s Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy plays as Dunbar senior Dalton Hill takes his first at-bat. He strikes out, the third Bulldog that Sullivan has shut down at the plate. The Elizabethtown pitcher mowed down two more in the bottom of the second.
12:42: Sullivan, coming off another three-strikeout inning, gets his second hit in the top of the fourth. His infield singles are the game’s only hits.
12:48: Dunbar’s Tim Lancaster draws a walk, ending a perfect-game bid by Sullivan. The Bulldogs can’t move their first base runner and the inning ends 0-0.
1:03: Sullivan tacks on three more strikeouts in the bottom of the fifth inning, his final one on the mound. He moved to right field with 12 Ks, no hits and a walk. “We kind of wanted to keep him relatively low on his pitch count today,” Pitts said. “He’s probably gonna make one more start before district.” The second official arrived in the middle of the inning.
1:33: Three up, three down for Dunbar in the bottom of the seventh. Sullivan recorded his third hit — and the game’s third hit —in the top of the seventh but Elizabethtown again came up empty. To extras!
1:41: It took eight innings, but Bryson Bloomer gets Dunbar’s first hit. Dunbar puts another base runner on via walk but fails to score.
2:04: Austin Shephard quietly put together a terrific game for Dunbar before leaving the mound after nine innings: eight strikeouts, three hits and several grounders converted for outs at first base. “We let him go as long as we felt comfortable in terms of pitch count,” Dunbar Coach Seth Knight said. “We knew we had Hunter (Wright) coming in behind him and Hunter’s been throwing well.”
2:10: Heard in the press box: “This game’s been so long they’re gonna have to cut the grass between innings.”
2:18: Someone hits a wall in the press box, knocking off pictures of former Dunbar teams that decorate it. The most eventful moment of the 11th inning was seen by only four people.
2:56: The Bulldogs come up empty in the 13th, the second straight inning in which they positioned themselves nicely with an early base runner on third.
3:10: Remember Dalton Hill? He saves the Bulldogs from another inning with a walkoff-double scoring Ben Keplinger, who reached on an error and got to second base on a wild pitch. Final score after 14 innings covering three hours: Paul Laurence Dunbar 1, Elizabethtown 0.
3:30: “I think 14’s the longest I’ve ever been a part of,” Dunbar Coach Seth Knight said. “It was fun.”
Knight said the Bulldogs had a tough run in their season defensively — they lost seven straight games at one point, including a 7-1 defeat at Elizabethtown — but they’re showing great improvement as the 43rd District Tournament nears.
“We tell ’em every day that pitching and defense has always been a staple of Dunbar, and somewhere along the line we lost that a little bit,” Knight said. “We had to get back to that.”
4:20: Unfortunately, the double-length session between Dunbar and Elizabeth meant Greenup County and Madison Central finished a seven-inning game right as I made it to Lafayette. The final score: Greenup 3, Central 2.
Senior Zach Hayden closed out the game for Greenup, which improved to 33-0 after defeating the Indians a night after topping host Lafayette. “It’s been fun,” Hayden said. “ ... All of us on the team know that we’re here to win.”
Greenup Coach Greg Logan said his team struggled offensively, a testament to the pitching staffs they went up against over the weekend. “Back in Greenup we’re used to scoring 10 or 15 runs and it’s not been like that down here,” Logan said. “ ... I guess I’m spoiled that we’ve been scoring a lot of runs. It’s two more wins and the streak stays intact.”
4:42: As I leave for Henry Clay, I’m struck by the fan support Greenup brought to Lexington. By far the biggest crowd I’ve seen for any baseball team this season.
5:04: The Blue Devils trail 1-0 as they bat for the first time against class of 2017 star Jordan Adell. He quickly sits ’em down. The Louisville commit flashes an infectious smile after a Henry Clay mom calls him a “cutie pie” as he walks into the dugout.
5:48: Ballard goes up 4-1 in the top of the fourth. Adell boomed a ball over the left-field wall for a solo homer.
5:58: Henry Clay loads the bases with two outs, leading Bruins Coach David Trager to pull Adell from the mound. Relief man Jordan Gunter gives up a two-run double to Chandler Dunn on his first pitch. A throwing error gets two more Henry Clay runs across the plate to give it a 5-4 lead heading into the fifth.
6:21: The Blue Devils’ dugout has more fun than probably any team in Central Kentucky. They bark, “We love the free ones!” as a balk scores a sixth Henry Clay run in the bottom of the fifth. “Every now and then we tell ’em to be quiet, but as long as they’re not saying anything derogatory to the other team it’s OK,” Coach Jordan Tarrence said. “ ... The other option is they’re sitting on the bench not paying attention. I’d rather them be into the game.”
6:44: A single scores a seventh Blue Devils run before a second balk moves an eighth in, both in the sixth.
6:47: Josh Huff of the Jessamine Journal reports on Twitter that East Jessamine has given top-ranked Greenup County its first loss, 2-1 at Lafayette. Senior Chase Wozniak pitched a complete game and picked up a marquee win for the Jaguars.
7:01: Henry Clay catches Adell off second base for an out that ends Ballard’s eight-game win streak. Final score: Henry Clay 8, Ballard 4.
Tarrence credited Tommy Czuhajewski, a sophomore who was called up from the JV team and made his first start against Ballard. “You ask a starting pitcher to go out and give you a chance and he did. That’s a really good team and he could have easily given up more than four.”
7:38: Bryan Station trails North Laurel 1-0 as they begin their first at-bat. The Defenders are wearing uniforms donated in honor of Josh Sullivan, a 1994 Station graduate who died on Nov. 19, 2014. Sullivan played baseball at Station and Georgetown College before studying dentistry at the University of Kentucky. He practiced pediatric dentistry in Georgia.
7:46: Camren Probst and Brannon Vires both knock in runs in the bottom of the first to put Station ahead 2-1.
8:01: A North Laurel player is hungry and asking his mom to bring a snack.
8:14: Jack Capobianco knocked in two runs to give North Laurel a 3-2 lead in the top of the third, but Station capitalized on a throwing error and a Corban Ellis RBI single in the bottom to make it 4-3.
8:18: Turns out Capobianco was the hungry player; his mom hands him some Fritos and a Mountain Dew as the third inning finishes.
8:45: North Laurel throws up an empty frame after a three-run fourth. Tyeler Hawkins comes up with a tough grab in center field for Station to end the top of the fifth. He was one of five freshmen who played for Station. “This is youth under fire,” Coach Eddie Brooks said. “ ... They’re slowly getting it.”
8:48: The Jaguars’ fifth missed throw to first base cuts Bryan Station’s deficit to 6-5. Heard in the crowd: “We’re working on the overthrow to first.”
8:57: Station loses a fly ball in the overcast sky during the top of the sixth. It drops to extend North Laurel’s lead to 7-5. A wild pitch puts another Jag across the plate.
9:22: North Laurel’s catcher throws to second base to try to catch a Station runner. Only problem? The Defenders have no one on base in the bottom of the seventh.
9:25: Station goes three up, three down. Final score: North Laurel 8, Bryan Station 5.
“That game right there, even though we got beat, I can live with the effort that we played with and energy we had finally,” Brooks said.
9:47: I stop at Popeyes for a late dinner. Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy blares from the speakers on my way home.