Owensboro has won six state baseball championships and been runner-up four times, but the Red Devils have never had a more improbable post-season run than the one they're on this year.
After going 6-14 in the regular season, Owensboro finds itself one victory away from playing for another state title
The Devils have been a new team in the playoffs as they showed again by beating Lawrence County 3-2 in 10 innings in the opening game of the Forcht Bank State Tournament Thursday afternoon at Applebee's Park
Owensboro (13-15) will play Bullitt East (31-8) in Friday's semifinals. The Chargers crushed South Laurel 16-5 in Thursday's second game.
"The past three weeks have been like a dream," Owensboro Coach Kip Walters said.
"To have such a rocky regular season and to be able to put that aside. The kids know if they play like they're capable, they can play with anybody.
"The adrenaline is rushing now."
Yantae Williams felt a rush when he slapped a two-out single in the the top of the 10th that drove in Jacob Nalley with what proved to be the winning run.
"I wanted to play on the big stage because I'm a senior," Williams said. "I knew I had to step up and stay confident."
Williams wasn't the only hitting hero for Owensboro.
The Devils trailed 1-0 until Davey Murphy ripped his seventh homer of the season, a two-run shot to left in the sixth inning.
That was the only mistake Lawrence County pitcher Chandler Shepherd made in nine innings. The sophomore right-hander gave up three hits, struck out 10 and walked three.
Nick Busch had an impressive day on the mound for Owensboro. He also went nine innings (the maximum under pitching rules) and gave up two hits, struck out 11 and walked two.
"Unbelievable," was how Walters described Busch's pitching.
Busch's only mistake was an errant pickoff throw to first with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning.
That error allowed Ramsey Compton to score from first and tie the game.
"I don't believe in divine intervention for baseball, but we caught a huge break there," Lawrence County Coach Travis Feltner said.
But Owensboro didn't let the stunning turn of events get it down.
"We could've dropped our heads and called it a day, but we kept fighting," Walters said. "That sums up our last three weeks. When the kids get down, they get right back up and keep battling."
Lawrence County, which was state runner-up to Pleasure Ridge Park last year, finished the season 23-16.
Bullitt East 16, South Laurel 5 (5 innings): After the Chargers scored 10 runs on three hits in the first inning, it was just a matter of holding on.
South Laurel's pitchers were more than generous in that first inning. Chris Adams, Matthew Martin and Matthew Gilbert combined to issue seven walks and hit another batter. Their control problems forced in five runs for Bullitt East.
"I really don't think they were nervous," Cardinals Coach Wynn Harris said. "It was just one of those things. We've had such excellent command of our pitches for so long, maybe it caught up with us."
Brandon Alphin had a big day at the plate for Bullitt East — two hits, three runs and five RBI, including a three-run double in the fifth that allowed the 10-run mercy rule to be in effect.
The Chargers' 16 runs were the most scored in a state tournament since Owensboro put 16 on the board in 1977 to beat Tates Creek.
Matt Bowles was the beneficiary on the mound for the winners. The junior right-hander went five innings, scattered four hits, struck out four and walked four.
"I couldn't ask for anything else out of our offense," Bowles said. "It was a great showing. We did exactly what we wanted to do. We were patient at the plate and put the ball in play.
"It relaxes you as a pitcher knowing you have that much of a lead to work with."
Bullitt East Coach Jeff Bowles, Matt's dad, agreed.
"It makes you feel a little more comfortable," he said of the big early lead. "Anytime you come out and score 16 runs, you've got to be happy.
"The first inning was just a bad situation for (South Laurel), and things went right for us. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good."
Owensboro 3, Lawrence Co. 2 (10)
Owensboro 000 002 000 1—3 5 4
Lawrence Co. 100 000 100 0—2 3 3
Nick Busch, Davey Murphy (10) and Jacob Hardesty. Chandler Shepherd, Cody Moore (10) and Jordan Miller. 2B—Nick Hackney (LC). HR—Davey Murphy (O).
Records—Owensboro 13-15, Lawrence Co. 23-16
Bullitt East 16, South Laurel 5
South Laurel 010 31 —5 4 1
Bullitt East (10)02 04 —16 7 0
Chris Adams, Matthew Martin (1), Matthew Gilbert (1) and Ryan Woody. Matt Bowles and Cory Johnson. 2B--Brandon Alphin (BE).
Records—South Laurel 25-5, Bullitt East 31-8