St. Xavier baseball coach John Jefferson rolled the dice and came up a winner in the quarterfinals of the Kentucky National Insurance/KHSAA State Tournament at Whitaker Bank Ballpark Wednesday night.
After No. 2 St. X beat Warren East 6-3, Jefferson admitted he took a risk by throwing junior Alex Mercer instead of senior ace Ian Tompkins against the Raiders.
"It was a gamble," Jefferson said. "Tompkins was our best pitcher available. If I was trying to win one game, I would've gone with Tompkins. But I'm trying to win the tournament, and to do that I had to go with Mercer."
Mercer and reliever Zach Clooney split the mound chores against Warren East, which means St. X has Tompkins ready for Friday night's semifinals against Central Hardin.
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Co-ace Matt Spalding, the winning pitcher against Clay County in Monday's opener, will be fresh for Saturday's championship game if the Tigers get there.
"I could've been second-guessed, but I like where I stand, with Tompkins on Friday and Spalding on Saturday," Jefferson said.
St. X is in the semifinals for the first time since 2006 as it tries for its first state title since 1981.
The Tigers jumped ahead of Warren East 6-0 thanks to timely hitting and some control problems by Raiders' starter Hunter Green.
St. X scored four times in the second inning, with two runners coming home on wild pitches by Green.
The hot-hitting Spalding drove in the other two runs with a two-out double.
In two state tournament games, Spalding is 6-for-7 with six RBI. "Matt's just been incredible hitting the ball," Jefferson said.
The Tigers added two runs in the third, with Pete Eddings contributing an RBI single. A Warren East throwing error allowed the other run.
While St. X's 3-4-5 hitters went 0-for-11, the bottom four combined for five hits and five runs.
"That's what we do, we pick each other up," said Shaun Johnston, who produced two hits and two runs in the No. 6 slot.
Mercer breezed through the first two innings on the mound, but he ran into trouble in the third when Zach Gross and Mark Biggs had run-scoring hits for Warren East.
When the Raiders threatened again in the fourth, Clooney came on in relief.
He was terrific over the last 32⁄3 innings, striking out five, walking none and giving up only a solo homer to Janos Briscoe in the seventh.
"I just tried to throw strikes," he said. "I couldn't afford to give anybody a free pass with a walk."
Jefferson was effusive in his praise of Clooney, who's been a consistent closer.
"Practically every single game the kid has to go down there and get loose, and 75 percent of the time he doesn't get in the game.
"He came in tonight and really took the wind out (of Warren East)."
Raiders Coach Wes Sanford said his team didn't show enough discipline and kept chasing Clooney's slider.
"But our kids played hard and kept battling. A hit or two at the right time and it might've been 6-6.
"But that's baseball."
Central Hardin 6, Apollo 2: Central Hardin held a tenuous 2-1 lead over Apollo until Matt Nichols gave the Bruins some breathing room.
Central Hardin had runners at second and third with one out in the top of the fifth when Apollo intentionally walked cleanup man Ryan Squires, loading the bases.
Nichols spoiled the Eagles' strategy, however, when he ripped a moon-shot grand slam to left field to give Central Hardin a 6-1 cushion.
Apollo trailed 2-0 early, but got one back in the bottom of the third when Dalton West walked and Luke Daugherty drove him in with a triple off the left-field fence.
But the Eagles couldn't muster much else against Central Hardin senior left-hander Dylan Shoffner. He gave up three hits and struck out seven in six innings to improve to 6-0. Drew Harrington closed the seventh.
Leadoff man Levi McCamish had a single, double and triple for the Bruins.
Central Hardin faces No. 2 St. X in Friday's semifinals. The Bruins beat St. X 3-2 in the Louisville Invitational Tournament in late April.
Tuesday's late game
Mercer County 13, Boyd County (3), five innings: Colin Buckner's 400-foot three-run homer highlighted a fun time for Mercer County as the Titans mercy-ruled Boyd County in a late-starting and late-finishing first-round game Tuesday night.
The first pitch was at 10:40 p.m.; the last out in the fifth inning came at 12:21 a.m.
Buckner's blast soared over the left-field bleachers in Whitaker Bank Ballpark and was the exclamation point in Mercer County's seven-run fourth inning.
Buckner also had a bases-loaded walk for another RBI.
Matthew Honchel had a three-run double earlier in the game as the Titans jumped ahead early and stayed there.