Judging from a good portion of its outcomes this season, Henry Clay’s baseball team has a little Evel Knievel in it.
The Blue Devils have won seven one-run games, four of which were walk-off victories. Those daredevil. exciting finishes have come by committee: seniors Jared Pierce, Boo Thompson and Luke Wilson along with sophomore Louis Kessinger have all contributed heroic hits to help send Henry Clay home with last-inning wins.
Not that that’s what they’d like to be doing, though.
“It’s a good thing that we’re winning those close games but we’d rather be winning them by five or six runs,” Wilson, an outfielder and pitcher who’s committed to Transylvania, said with a laugh. “But it speaks a lot that we can compete and win those games, too.”
Henry Clay was 12-6 through 18 games, two wins better than it was a year ago at the same juncture. The Blue Devils had yet to drop consecutive games in 2017 — something they’d done three times already by mid-April last year — before traveling to Scott County on Wednesday for the second game of a home-and-home series with the Cardinals. Henry Clay, ranked 19th in MaxPreps’ latest rankings, looked to end a five-game losing streak to the No. 3 Cards dating to 2015.
The Blue Devils would like to unseat their Georgetown rivals, who won the 11th Region last season and returned the bulk of their contributors from that squad, in the 42nd District. Coach Jordan Tarrence believes he’s got the pieces to make a strong run in the second half of the season and into the postseason.
More importantly, so do his players, who’ve made great strides in the first two months, he said.
“I can already tell that we have improved from where we were at the beginning of the year,” said Tarrence, who’s in his eighth season leading the program. “We’ve got guys doing things at a higher level, we’ve got guys playing harder and we’ve got guys playing with more confidence. That’s the biggest thing, playing with confidence. The more reps they get, the more confident they get and the more they feel like they belong.”
Growing pains and gains
Six of Henry Clay’s eight defensive starters (excluding pitcher) are starting varsity for the first time. Senior Ray Hukill and juniors T.J. Keck and Devyn Wilson-Cowan have emerged as offensive leaders in the top half of the order after having played few significant varsity innings up to this point. Thompson continues to be a stalwart on offense and at first base in his final season with the program.
And he continues to do so silently.
“He’s a quiet, never-talks kid. I never heard him talk ’til he was a junior,” Tarrence said with a laugh. “He’s kind of a lead-by-example guy. He’s gonna give us a good, tough at-bat every time.”
Tarrence would like for someone to become a vocal leader.
“We need one,” he said. “We’ve had a couple guys try, and we’ve told ’em that it doesn’t have to be a senior. It could easily be a younger guy to step up and do it.”
The inexperienced unit was without one of its other leaders for a portion of the offseason. Wilson, who led Henry Clay in just about every meaningful pitching category last season, was diagnosed with a small fracture in his lower back in December and wore a brace until March 6. He’s played in every game this season but didn’t make his first start on the mound until Saturday versus Mercer County, against whom he pitched a complete-game shutout.
Tarrence “hated” not having the ball in Wilson’s hand early but it allowed him to deepen the team’s pitching rotation. Henry Clay’s other starters — Proctor Mercer, Tommy Czuhajewski, Sean Gibbons and Hukill — have all pitched at least 20 innings and combined for 17 starts.
Henry Clay’s also still dealing with the absence of Jose Gonzalez, a senior who started at third base before dislocating his shoulder in the fourth game of the year. He was hitting .417 and “doing a great job defensively for us,” Tarrence said, before the injury. His replacement, Kessinger, is getting valuable reps at the position.
“He’s probably never played third in his life,” Tarrence said. “But he does the best he can. He’s a kid that’s gonna play hard and is a, ‘Put-me-wherever-you-need-me-Coach”-type guy.”
That’s the sort of can-do attitude Tarrence thinks can get Henry Clay to where it wants to be — in the state-tournament field for the first time since 1973. It’ll have to value every game — regardless of outcome — along the way. Wilson thinks his teammates can do that.
“This is the best I’ve felt about a team I’ve been on in the last three years,” Wilson said. “It’s like we’re more of a team. I think we’re going in the right direction.”