For the second year in a row a fantastic season by the Scott County baseball team came to an end in the state quarterfinals.
No. 2 McCracken County scored four runs in the third inning without hitting the ball out of the infield and went on to a 4-2 victory over the fourth-ranked Cardinals at the KHSAA State Baseball Tournament at Whitaker Bank Ballpark on Saturday.
The Mustangs’ win spoiled clutch performances from Cooper Robb and Brian Thorn. Robb, a junior second baseman, went 3-for-3 at the plate and scored both Scott County runs. Thorn, a senior pitcher, tossed 3 1/3 innings of one-hit ball and stopped the bleeding in the bottom of the third.
The Cardinals’ prospects looked promising in the top of the third when Robb belted an opposite-field home run for a 1-0 lead.
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The ball appeared to bounce around the deck above the right-field fence then bounce back into the outfield. After the umpires conferred, they upheld the home run ruling, prompting a short argument from McCracken County Coach Geno Miller.
With Scott County trailing 4-1 in the fifth, Robb led off with a double to right field and moved to third on a misfired pickoff attempt. He scored the Cardinals’ final run on Cam Hill’s groundout. Robb led off the seventh with a single to center field, bringing the tying run to the plate. But McCracken County reliever Caleb Reinhardt retired the next three batters to end the Cards’ run and send the Mustangs to the semifinals for the second year in a row.
Miller said the Mustangs did everything they could to slow down Robb.
“He just hit everything we threw up,” Miller said. “He did an outstanding job for them up there. We just couldn’t get him out.”
After Robb’s homer gave the Cardinals their only lead, McCracken wasted no time using small ball to strike back.
Nathan Bynum was hit by a pitch to lead off the third then Rook Ellington and Daniel Myatt laid down back-to-back bunt singles to load the bases. Will Sykes’ sacrifice fly tied the game then Trent Shelby walked to load the bases once again.
James Michael Dodd followed with a rocket up the middle that ricocheted off the leg of Scott County starter Sam Sutton and gave the Mustangs a 2-1 lead.
“I just knew I was gonna cut the ball in half,” Dodd said. “You just gotta go up there with the mindset that you know you’re gonna hit the baseball and take a deep breath.”
Sutton limped around the infield for several minutes but stayed in the game and issued a four-pitch bases-loaded walk to Cameron Langston, prompting Scott County Coach Scott Willard to bring Thorn on in relief and send Sutton to left field.
After a wild pitch plated the final McCracken County run, Thorn retired two straight to end the inning, but the damage was done.
“As a senior I thought Brian Thorn really stepped up and calmed things down,” Willard said. “He came in with the bases loaded and one out and they only got one run out of it then he threw shutout innings the rest of the way. I couldn’t ask anything more out of him.”
Scott County is poised to make another run at the school’s first state title next season, boasting a roster laden with juniors and underclassmen. The Cardinals will lose just two seniors who played regularly this year. But Willard found little consolation in the future after Saturday’s loss.
“You’ve got to feel bad for your two seniors, Cam (Hill) and Brian (Thorn). I told our team all year ‘they don’t care about next year, they’re worried about this year’,” Willard said. “So it was tough on them. They’ve given a lot to our program and really done a great job.”
PRP edges Highlands in thriller
In a tournament marked by tightly contested games Saturday’s second round finale might have been the best so far.
Matt Cavanaugh dropped a go-ahead two-out single into right field in the top of the seventh inning and Dallas Glass finished off a complete game by leaving the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh to send Pleasure Ridge Park past Highlands 3-2 in the final quarterfinal matchup on Saturday.
The win keeps alive the Panthers’ pursuit of the school’s sixth state championship and first since 2013.
Highlands trailed 2-1 in the top of the sixth when Trey Bowden drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on Ethan Doty’s sacrifice bunt. Bowden scored to tie the game when PRP second baseman Noah McDonald fielded a grounder and overthrew first base.
PRP’s Jalil Akbar drew a one-out walk and stole second in the top of the seventh. With one out left in the inning, Highlands intentionally walked Nick Rucker, who was 3-for-3 on the night, to get to Cavanaugh.
"I got down two strikes but I wasn’t gonna let that ball go by me because I want this more than anybody for the team," Cavanaugh said. "I knew in me that it was gonna get down because I knew we were gonna win this game."
Cavanaugh’s bloop dropped just in front of the Highlands right fielder and Akbar scored the go-ahead run.
Highlands didn’t go down quietly. After Glass picked pinch runner Cooper Schwalbach off first base for the second out in the bottom of the seventh the Bluebirds loaded the bases on a single and back-to-back walks.
With the go-ahead run at second base, Glass drew a popup from Ethan Doty to end the game.
"Dallas has had these types of games all year long and when he had to make a pitch he made it," said PRP Coach William Miller. "That pickoff in the last inning was key."
Glass allowed one earned run and five hits while walking four and striking out five. Drew Rom took a tough loss for Highlands, throwing a complete game and allowing two earned runs while scattering nine hits and striking out eight.
11 a.m.: Simon Kenton (26-15) vs. Marion Co. (28-6)
1:30 p.m.: McCracken Co. (34-5) vs. Highlands-PRP winner
1 p.m.: Championship