“Who ya got in the always tough 43rd District Tourney?”
That was the question posed in a Twitter poll by Prep Baseball Report Kentucky before the 43rd District tournament got underway Monday. The breakdown after five-hundred and seventy-seven people voted among four options (the maximum allowed by the service) looked like this:
“45% Lexington Catholic”
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“18% Tates Creek”
Noticeably absent? Lexington Christian, the five seed who put itself in the 43rd District finals with a 6-4 upset of top-seeded Lexington Catholic on Wednesday night.
“We took that personally,” said senior third baseman Devin Buckner, who got things going for LCA early with a two-run homer to right field that gave the Eagles a 3-0 lead after the first half inning. “What are they gonna tweet out now?”
The Eagles (20-18) knocked off Paul Laurence Dunbar, then ranked 24th in the state, 4-0 on Monday night in the first-round game on the Bulldogs’ field. That win pushed LCA to above .500 for the first time since April 6.
LexCath and LCA originally were scheduled to play Lexington Catholic at Dunbar on Tuesday night but lightning delays postponed the contest to Wednesday. Field conditions at Dunbar were not suitable so Dunbar opted to move Wednesday’s game to Lexington Catholic, which has a turf field.
The Knights, ranked fourth in the state in MaxPreps’ most recent computer rankings, never led LCA, whom they swept in the regular season. LCA dropped the contest at their place, 5-0, on April 19 but had a chance to win at LexCath the night before. It led 2-0 in the seventh inning before the Knights (26-8) put together a two-out rally and eventually won, 3-2, in nine innings.
Eagles freshman Evan Byers, who was on the mound for that comeback last month, met an eerily similar situation Wednesday night. He issued a walk then struck out two batters before loading the bases in the bottom of the seventh with another walk and a hit batsman.
“I was kind of nervous, but this time I felt like we didn’t have anything to lose,” Byers said. “They were the one seed, we were the five seed. We just had to show ’em who owns the city, really, and show ’em that an underdog can come back and take ’em.”
Trip Lockhart, a senior pitcher who’s signed with the University of Kentucky, flew out to left field, where shortstop Matthew Johnson came away with the game-sealing catch despite colliding with left-fielder Ryan Stucky.
Johnson noted that Stucky said he called for the ball, but he didn’t hear his teammate.
“I dropped one earlier in the year, same exact play, to lose the game, so I was just making sure I didn’t drop it this time,” Johnson said. “‘Just catch it, just catch it. Don’t let it fall.’”
Johnson delivered a long single to center-right to score the Eagles’ final run of the game and give them a 6-4 lead in the top of the fifth inning. Stucky hit a home run and Chase Galloway had an RBI double to put the Eagles up 5-1 after two and a half innings.
Catholic got on the board in the bottom of the first inning thanks to an RBI single by catcher Landon Moberly. Stephen Bender knocked a two-run homer over the right-field wall to cut LCA’s lead to 5-3 in the third inning. A double by Ben Wilcoxson brought in the Knights’ final run in the bottom of the fourth.
Nine of 11 LexCath batters were retired before the Knights put together their last-inning threat.
“It’s never fun to end your season like that,” LexCath Coach Taylor Brooks said. “Unfortunately one team ends happy at the end of the year and we weren’t that team this year. But I’m proud of this team.
“They had a great year and I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys. Hat tip to LCA, they played well and beat us.”
Eagles Coach Keith Galloway, who announced before the season that this would be his final year with the program, credited a double play that ended the first inning for disallowing LexCath to respond majorly after LCA jumped out to a three-run lead.
“It kept them from having a big inning,” Galloway said. “We scored at the top half of the inning but if we had given up a crooked number to them I think we would have lost that momentum.”
Play was halted 28 minutes after the game started as heavy rain moved into the area. It resumed about 10 minutes later. A light drizzle that began about the fifth inning picked up moderately in the final frame.
LCA will meet Lafayette in the 43rd District championship, scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursday at Dunbar. The Generals took both meetings in the regular season.
An appearance in the 43rd District finals means also means a trip to the 11th Region tournament, for which the Eagles qualified the second time in the last seven years. That means Galloway’s retirement now is on hold for at least another week.
“He’s truly gonna be missed, so we might as well make this season longer than it should be,” Byers said.
Lexington Christian 6, Lexington Catholic 4
Wills, Byers (4) and Stout; Lockhart, Hodges (4), Bender (6) and Moberly. W—Wills. L—Lockhart. 2B—LCA: Buckner, Navis, Stucky. LC: Lockhart, Wilcoxson. HR—LCA: Buckner, Stucky. LC: Bender.
Records: Lexington Christian 20-18, Lexington Catholic 26-8.