The genie’s still out of the bottle for St. Xavier.
Nearly a week between games did nothing to stop St. Xavier’s magical run in the Rawlings/KHSAA State Baseball Tournament. Cameron Scheler delivered a pinch-hit, two-RBI double to give the Tigers a 3-2 walkoff win over McCracken County in semifinals Friday at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
The Tigers, who won their 11th straight, will play the winner between Campbell County and Bullitt East for a chance at their seventh state title on Saturday. To get to that point, they’ve defeated Greenup County — the No. 1 team in the state — and West Jessamine, the defending state champion which saw its repeat dreams put to rest by a walkoff homer by Samuel Mudd.
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McCracken County, the second-ranked team in the state, hadn’t lost to a Kentucky team since falling to Highlands in the first round of last year’s state tournament. The Mustangs (37-6) defeated St. Xavier (28-12) earlier in the season.
Box score: McCracken County vs. St. Xavier
Scheler, who occasionally caught for varsity but was primarily a JV player throughout the season, pinch-hit for Zeke Porta with the bases loaded and one out. In his first state tournament at-bat, the freshman crushed a ball to the centerfield wall.
“I’m still speechless,” Scheler said. “I don’t even know what just happened to be honest. I knew a fast ball was coming and I just put a good swing on it.”
He credited St. Xavier’s pitching for putting him in a position to deliver. Daniel Fischer and Adam Elliott, both University of Louisville signees, combined to throw nine strikeouts and allow just one earned run — a two-out, go-ahead run by Ian Walters to put McCracken County on top 2-1 in the top of the ninth inning. Walters was 3-for-4 and had both McCracken RBIs.
Elliott felt good about the guys coming up in a do-or-die moment after he notched the final out. When Coach Andy Porta decided to insert Schleler for his son, Elliott approached the freshman to massage his nerves.
“With his power, he can pop it up and it’d be in the outfield and we can get that run in and tie it up,” Elliott said.
There was no second-guessing from Zeke when Coach Porta opted to make a change.
“I just looked him in the eye and said ‘Let Cam hit for ya,’” Porta said. “He said, ‘Absolutely dad, let him go.’”
A concern for St. Xavier heading into the finals is its available pitching. Fischer and Elliott both reached pitch counts that will keep them off the mound in the deciding game.
Connor Holden — who went 5-1 with a 2.12 ERA in the regular season — will get the start for the Tigers. His 38 strikeouts were tied with Elliott for second-most on the team coming into the tournament.
Holden hasn’t pitched since throwing two shutout innings against Male in the 26th District championship game. Two other St. X pitchers — Brian O’Neil and Sam Wilson — have thrown more than 20 innings this season.
“It’s time for us to put up or shut up,” the St. Xavier coach said. “We’ve talked about our pitching depth all year and we’ll see how they do tomorrow.”
The Tigers’ clutch hitting might erase any pitching dilemmas they face on Saturday.
“It’s almost like we’re just meant to win the game because we can put anybody up there and they’ll get a hit for us,” Elliott said.
State championship: St. Xavier vs. Campbell County
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Whitaker Bank Ballpark