One hit away. Again.
That was the refrain from several Lexington Christian baseball players after a 6-3 loss to Madison Central in 10 innings last week. After a decisive seventh frame in which the Eagles tied the game with a Ryan Stucky single, they failed to move runners into scoring position when opportunities presented themselves in the extra innings.
Failure to capitalize has been a theme for LCA, whose 16-18 record could just as easily be 22-12. Six of those losses were by one run — a run that frequently was there for the taking.
“It’s just that one hit,” said senior catcher Devin Buckner. “We’re a young team and we’re gonna get there. They’re just not experienced yet.”
LCA lost its last seven games of 43rd District play after defeating Paul Laurence Dunbar on the road in its league opener. Junior Cooper Wills got the start for the Eagles in that contest; he hasn’t pitched since due to an elbow strain. He’s expected to recover in time for next week’s district tournament.
One silver lining is that even without one of its aces, LCA still managed to make tight at least one of its games against other 43rd District members (all of whom are ranked among the top 15 teams in the state). It led at Lexington Catholic, 2-0, before the highly ranked Knights rallied for an extra-inning victory a month ago.
“It’s been the case many times where we haven’t got the break that we needed or the big hit that we needed or made the key play at a key time,” Eagles Coach Keith Galloway said. “A part of that is we didn’t have a great year last year and so, for some of them, they’re still learning how to win. Sometimes that’s a tough lesson to learn.”
Once LCA comes up with that “breakthrough win,” Galloway said, the train could get rolling quickly.
“I think once they get it, they’ll taste that and they’ll like it and they’ll be able to do it more frequently,” he said.
‘I know I’ll miss it’
Galloway was the third head boys’ basketball coach in as many seasons when he arrived at Lexington Christian Academy in 1997. He managed to stick — as the head baseball coach, a post he assumed beginning with the 1999 season. Entering the spring he informed school officials of his decision to resign after the end of this season.
Since the turn of the century Galloway has transformed the fledgling program into a juggernaut on the diamond. The Eagles have won four All “A” Classic championships on Galloway’s watch and made two state tournament trips out of the nightmarish 11th Region. In 2005, LCA became the second Class A program in the last 40 years to win a KHSAA baseball state championship (the school has since moved up to Class 2A).
Coaching at a small program is all Galloway has ever known. The Pendleton County graduate was a basketball and baseball coach at Model Laboratory School in Richmond for five seasons before moving to LCA. A 14-0 win over Paris on Tuesday night was his 400th victory, which has him within shouting distance of the KHSAA’s all-time wins list (minimum of 475).
Galloway student-taught at Tates Creek and quickly realized he enjoyed the small-school climate more because of the abundant one-on-one opportunities with students that it provided. Sure, smaller, private schools don’t always trot out the strongest athletes, but Galloway has never let that bog down his motivation.
“I think being in a small school, you learn that you are a teacher first and a coach second. That’s the most important thing,” Galloway said. “ … You’re not always gonna have the best athletes to put out there. But at the same time, you can always have the most heart and the best spirit and the best quality person.
“That’s what we’ve tried to invest in, is making sure we have quality guys and quality men that represent Christ and represent our school.”
Now is the “right time” to step away from the grind, said Galloway, whose son Chase is a senior at LCA. He will remain at the school as an assistant principal, a role he’s served for the last seven years.
Being able to still interact with his soon-to-be-former players will make transitioning from the field easier.
“I think every coach that you talk to that steps down and steps out of coaching, within a couple years it seems like they always jump back into it, so I know I’ll miss it. That part I know is a given,” Galloway said. “But at the same time I know it’s time for me to come up for air. I’ve been in the water swimming and it’s just time to take the break.”
Lexington Christian is locked into the fifth seed in one of the state’s toughest districts. To their credit, the Eagles haven’t allowed their near-misses to erode their confidence.
“By the time that we put everything together, I think we’ll be a dangerous team,” said Andrew Branstetter, a sophomore pitcher. “A lot of teams will try to overlook us in the tournament, but all we need is a few balls and a few plays to roll our way and we can do something special.”
Galloway feels good about what his rotation will look like once everyone is at full strength. His pitching staff has deepened as a result of Wills’ injury, so the Eagles should be able to contend on the mound with their big-school counterparts. The defense has come around “a long way” since last year’s 11-20 campaign.
A big-boy schedule has gotten the Eagles ready for anything they’ll see in the postseason. If they can make the critical plays next week that have eluded them more often than not this season, they just might be able to extend Galloway’s time on the bench.
“I think we’re a sleeper for sure,” Buckner said.
CORRECTION: The original published text of this article mistakenly said Lexington Christian Academy was the only Class A program in the last 40 years in win a state baseball title. Paintsville High School, a Class A school, won in 1990.