For Ashland Blazer's Sam Hunter, waiting for the chance to play in the state baseball tournament was his own type of hunger game.
The senior left-hander finally satisfied his appetite Tuesday night and led the Tomcats to a 7-0 victory over South Laurel in the Kentucky National Insurance/KHSAA State Tournament at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
"I've waited a long time to get here," said Hunter, who has been in Ashland's starting rotation since he was an eighth-grader. "We came close a couple times, but luckily we got here my senior year.
"And yes, it was worth the wait."
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Hunter feasted on the opportunity. He went the full seven innings, scattering four hits, striking out 14 and walking five. He ran his record to 10-1 and his strikeout total to 135 in 74 innings this spring.
"Sam — what can you say about him?" Ashland Coach Jeff Wilcox said. "He's a competitor who goes out every day and does a great job.
"We knew he'd do a great job today if we could score some runs for him."
It took a while for the Tomcats to figure out South Laurel lefty Austin Vigeant, who blanked them through three innings.
Ashland finally got on the board in the fourth. Joe Stewart doubled with one out, and Cameron Fitz walked. Evan Yongue, batting eighth in the order, ripped a two-out, two-run double to put the Tomcats in front.
They added a run in the fifth on Aaron Elam's two-out RBI single, then broke it open with four runs in the sixth. Elam had the big hit — a two-run double — and Jared Slone, No. 9 in the order, doubled in a run.
"We've been preaching that all year," Wilcox said. "Everybody's gotta contribute, I don't care where you bat in the lineup, You've got to do your job."
South Laurel had its chances against Hunter, but it left the bases loaded in the first, runners at second and third in the third, and a runner at third in the fifth. Each time Hunter got a strikeout to defuse the threats.
"That's been me pretty much my whole career," said Hunter, who hasn't made a college choice. "I get myself into jams, but I'm pretty good at working out of them."
South Laurel Coach Wynn Harris was disappointed with the outcome but happy with the way his Cardinals came together this season.
"This was not a year we expected to win the region," he said. "That was our goal and we felt we had a shot.
"We had four or five freshmen in the lineup with three seniors and two juniors. It's a really good feeling when you have a group that becomes a team like this group did."
South Laurel 000 000 0—0 4 1
Ashland Blazer 000 214 x—7 6 0
Austin Vigeant and Stephen Simpson. Sam Hunter and Cameron Fritz. 2B—Joe Stewart (A), Evan Yongue (A), Jared Slone (A).
Records—South Laurel 26-12; Ashland Blazer 28-8