Alex Shapiro held a team meeting the August before the 2015 baseball season upon accepting the head coaching job at Model Laboratory School.
The first-time head coach quickly met reality.
“I said, ‘We’re gonna start conditioning in October’ and they asked, ‘What’s conditioning?’” Shapiro said with a laugh. “Three years in and this is what we’re doing now.”
“This” is winning the first district title in the history of the school. Model defeated Madison Southern, 7-3, on Tuesday night.
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Model opened in 1906 and the KHSAA has sponsored baseball since 1940. So, to say Model has waited a long time for its moment in the district limelight would be a gross understatement.
And to think, the Patriots were one out away from not even being in the finals.
“To be honest, we were beat,” Shaprio said of Model’s semifinals matchup with Berea. Starter Zane Brown reached his pitch-count limit in the seventh inning with the Pirates holding a 4-1 lead and needing just one out to end the game. Shapiro said his club couldn’t get anything going against the quick-throwing lefty.
“We knew he was inching close to his pitch count and once he hit it and they took him out of the game, we got some runners on,” Shapiro said. “A base hit here, a base hit there, and all of a sudden it’s 4 to 4.”
Nine-hole hitter Cruse Pingleton delivered the walk-off single to give Model a 5-4 win over the Pirates. “He’s got a very solid baseball name,” Shapiro said of the freshman.
It’s once in a lifetime. ... I expect for the next group of seniors that are coming up in the next few years, for their favorite memory in high school baseball to be ‘Winning the district in 2017.’
Alex Shapiro, Model head coach
Senior Connor Taylor threw a complete game against Madison Southern. The senior gave up eight hits but issued only one walk. While “conditioning” was a foreign word to some upon Shapiro’s arrival, Taylor always was ready to take on the extra work needed to improve.
“No one deserves this more than him,” Shapiro said. “ … He’s accountable and he’ll hold others accountable to the same standard.”
The Patriots fell behind 2-0 versus Madison Southern in the first inning before working into a 3-3 tie with the Eagles. Leadoff hitter Garrison Gray went up to bat with the bases loaded in the sixth inning and knocked a line drive all the way to the left-field corner to unload the bases. Gray’s ball was fair by “maybe 6 inches.”
“We were just waiting for that big hit and he delivered it,” said Shapiro, a 2006 graduate of Henry Clay who played two years at Maryville College in Tennessee before finishing a degree in kinesiology and health promotion at the University of Kentucky. He lives in Lexington and teaches at Crawford Middle School.
The 44th District most seasons ends up being the Madison Central invitational. Since 2001 the Indians have won every district title except in 2006 (when Model knocked it off in the semis) and this season, when Madison Southern shocked its top-10 rival, 6-4, in Monday night’s semifinal.
With one of the state’s premier programs and another much-larger school in its district, Model — which had the fewest boys of any 11th Region school this school year — seldom gets the chance to even play for a championship, even with the benefit of a random draw.
Conditioning helped; now there’s a precedent for winning one.
“It’s once in a lifetime,” Shapiro said. “ … We had Senior Night a few weeks back and all the seniors were like, ‘My favorite memory was going to region my sophomore year.’ So, now I expect for the next group of seniors that are coming up in the next few years, for their favorite memory in high school baseball to be ‘Winning the district in 2017.’
“That’s pretty special.”