Even with their two aces sitting out, the St. Xavier Tigers couldn’t be slain.
Thanks to an outstanding performance from a junior pitcher who two years earlier was cut from the team and a solo home run, St. X defeated Campbell County, 1-0, in the finals of the Rawlings/KHSAA State Baseball Tournament.
It gave title No. 7 to the Tigers, breaking a tie with Owensboro and Manual for most in state history. After winning four times from 1942-1951 and taking the 1981 crown, St. X didn’t add its sixth title until 2014. Its win Saturday gave Louisville three of the previous six crowns (Pleasure Ridge Park won in 2013).
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Connor Holden pitched a complete-game shutout, surrendering only three hits and striking out eight with a walk. He was named to the All-Tournament team along with Daniel Fischer and Adam Elliott, two University of Louisville signees who hit their pitch-count limits in the semifinals.
Box score: St. Xavier 1, Campbell County 0
Good thing the Tigers had Holden, who hadn’t pitched since the 26th District championship and who was cut from the team as a freshman.
He lost about 20 pounds, converted to pitching from catching and rejoined the squad as a sophomore.
“It was hard going through not playing a baseball season,” Holden said. “ … I was a little overconfident and then getting cut made me realize that you’ve gotta work for things that you want. And I realized that baseball is something I want.”
The hardest part for Holden wasn’t putting in the work needed to improve, but telling other people he didn’t make the team after playing baseball his whole life. Repeatedly having to say to himself and others, ‘I wasn’t good enough,’ took a couple of months to get past, he said.
Having models like Fischer and Elliott in the dugout helped speed along his development.
“I’ve really taken after them,” Holden said. “ … Watching them go out there and pitch, and watching what they do, how they keep focused, I try to model my pitching style after them.”
A season to remember ended on a sour note for Campbell County, which saw Colton Hartig turn in a solid pitching performance but couldn’t come up with hits when it needed them most. Hartig went the distance and gave up five hits, including a leadoff home run to Casey Simon in the bottom of the third which proved to be the difference-maker.
The Camels had few chances to support Hartig. A 1-2-3 double play ended their biggest threat with the bases loaded and one out in the opening frame. They managed just their third base runner of the game in the seventh inning when Connor Walsh got a leadoff single and advanced to third after a sac bunt and a groundout. Joe Eblin, who’d had some big hits previously in the tournament, struck out swinging.
This season won’t be defined by one at-bat or one game, Camels Coach Scott Schweitzer said.
“That’s the first runner-up trophy that I’ll ever proudly take back to school with me,” Schweitzer said. “St. X was great today. I thought we were great today and they were just a little bit better. I can walk away here with my head high and know that we did everything we could as coaches and players to win a state championship.
“It was an awesome experience. Expect to see us back.”
East-West All-Star games
High school baseball season may now officially be over, but there’s still high school baseball to be played in Kentucky.
Asbury University will host the East-West All-Star junior and sophomore games this week. The sophomore showcase begins at 4 p.m. Tuesday with the junior event set to start at 4 p.m. Wednesday. Rosters are available at www.khsbca.org.