Baseball is no stranger to the bizarre, but they were reintroduced in Henderson County's 1-0 victory over Newport Central Catholic in nine innings in the quarterfinals of the Kentucky National Insurance State Tournament on Thursday night.
A great pitching duel had a shocking ending that prompted a collective gasp from the fans in Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
Henderson County's Kaleb Duckworth led off the bottom of the ninth with a double, only the second hit off NewCath starter Josh Cain, who was in the midst of a great pitching performance.
Avery Pitt reached on an infield error, and Duckworth went to third. With Justin Cessna at the plate, Pitt stole second unchallenged.
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The came the stunning finish.
Cain, who later said he was so focused on the batter that he didn't realize Pitt had stolen second, wheeled and fired a pickoff attempt to an unoccupied first base. The ball whistled wildly past the fielder, and Duckworth raced home with the winning run on what was ruled a balk.
"I was afraid the game would end on something crazy," Henderson Coach Nathan Isenberg said. "I hated to see the guy (Cain) lose that way.
"But that's baseball. We'll take it."
Duckworth felt the same way. "I didn't know what (Cain) was doing. I guess he forgot Avery stole second. He threw a heck of a game, so I kind of feel sorry for him.
"But we'll take it."
The devastated Cain was left in tears as teammates, coaches and fans tried to console him.
After gathering himself, he told reporters: "It's awful. I don't want to ever experience this feeling again. It's terrible."
NewCath Coach Jeff Schulkens said his junior right-hander "just had a mental lapse" on the balk.
"It's a shame it came down to that, as great a game as he pitched. I told him he has nothing to be ashamed of."
Sam Higgs, the winning pitcher in the Colonels' first-round victory over North Oldham, got another "W" with two innings of relief. He and sophomore starter Marty Coursey combined for seven strikeouts and limited Newport Catholic to four hits.
Both teams squandered prime scoring opportunities.
Henderson County had runners at second and third with no outs in the sixth (on two NewCath errors) but came up empty.
The Thoroughbreds had a runner at third with one out in the seventh but failed to score after a missed squeeze signal.
Henderson County finally broke the stalemate on a play that was bizarre even for baseball.
"I can't remember seeing one like that," Schulkens said. "Everybody was like, what the heck just happened? I think everybody was in shock.
"But Josh is a competitor, and he has another year. This is going to make him even more determined to be a leader and get this team back down here."
Henderson County, the 2000 state champ, advances to Friday night's semifinals against Meade County.
Newport Catholic 000 000 000—0 4 3
Henderson County 000 000 001—1 2 3
Josh Cain and Matt Broering. Marty Coursey, Sam Higgs (8) and Andrew Richmond, Justin Cessna (4). 2B—Pete Callopy (NC), Kaleb Duckworth (HC).
Records—NewCath 25-17-1; Henderson County 28-13-1