Lexington Catholic's baseball team wears the No. 1 ranking well, as it showed in winning the 43rd District title on Wednesday night.
The Knights, missing two key starters, got solid pitching and terrific defense in rallying past host Paul Laurence Dunbar 3-1 in the finals.
"There's always a target on our back," Coach Taylor Brooks said. "But our kids keep the blinders on, and do a good job of that. They don't buy into the hype at all."
Lexington Catholic (31-7) will go into next week's 11th Region tournament at Tates Creek as the defending champion. Dunbar (24-14) earned a spot in the region for the first time since 2008.
The Knights won the district without junior catcher and star hitter Tyler Jackson, who had to sit out two games after being ejected from the regular-season finale. His younger brother Riley filled in capably behind the plate.
Lexington Catholic senior shortstop and leadoff man Will Hurt started Wednesday's game, but sickness sidelined him after the second inning. No problem. Trey Miller moved from second to short, and freshman Michael Talbott took over at second.
"We have a lot of people who can come in and step up," said junior third baseman Evan Fraliex. "Everyone's ready on the bench; everyone's always in the game."
The Knights had to battle to beat Dunbar for the third time this spring.
The Bulldogs took a 1-0 lead in the second when Kyle Monthie singled, went to second on a wild pitch, advanced to third on a groundout and scored on a balk by Tom Banahan.
But Banahan, a 6-foot-5 junior right-hander, didn't let the miscue rattle him. He pitched five strong innings. He gave up three hits, walked two and struck out three.
"This was the first time Tom's thrown in a tournament game, and he really battled," Brooks said. "He gave up a tough run, but he threw zeros after that."
Colton Cleary, a senior lefty, blanked Dunbar in the final two innings.
Lexington Catholic capitalized on a Dunbar error to tie it in the fourth. The Bulldogs botched what could have been an inning-ending double play, and that allowed Trey Miller to score.
The Knights took the lead in the fifth. Talbott singled with one out, went to second on a passed ball and to third on a wild pitch. He scored on Logan Taylor's fielder's choice. Robert Waller drove in Taylor with an insurance run.
In a game of defensive gems by both teams, Fraliex had the play of the night at third when he snagged a high-bouncing bullet off the bat of Clint Baumgardner in the fifth and threw him out.
"An unbelievable play. One of the best high school plays I've seen," Brooks said.
Even the poker-faced Fraliex admitted it was "probably one of the most memorable" he's made.
Dunbar Coach Larry Poynter was happy with his team's performance, especially the pitching provided by Stephen Holdren and Tyler Brummer.
The Bulldogs' error on the double-play ball hurt, "but that's high school baseball," Poynter said.
What pleased the coach the most was the way his team came ready to play after Tuesday night's remarkable rally from a 7-0 deficit to beat Lafayette 8-7.
"After such an emotional game last night, I was proud of the way our guys stayed focused and competed today," Poynter said.
Paul Dunbar 010 000 0—1 3 2
Lexington Catholic 000 120 x—3 4 1
Stephen Holdren, Stephen Shunk (5), Tyler Brummer (5) and Connor Huskey. Tom Banahan, Colton Cleary (6) and Riley Jackson.
Records—Dunbar 24-14; Lexington Catholic 31-7.