RICHMOND — Tates Creek senior center fielder JaVon Shelby was at the center of the Commodores' celebration after they beat Scott County 9-2 in the 11th Region baseball finals at Madison Central Wednesday night.
Shelby had a surprise for his teammate. He untucked his jersey and pulled it up to reveal a white T-shirt, fashioned by his sister Tiara, that had "End of the drought" scrawled on the front, and "State bound" on the back.
"It's been 23 years since Tates Creek advanced to the state, so this is huge," Shelby shouted as his buddies went bonkers around him. "We're proud of ourselves for getting to this moment."
Since Tates Creek last won the region in 1990, it has been region runner-up four times (1991, 1997, 2000, 2011). The Commodores and their fans can forget all that frustration now.
"I'm real excited for our kids and our community," Coach Dom Fucci said. "We've been knocking on the door, and finally it cracked open for us."
Thirty-five years after winning the first of its three state championships (1978, '80, '86), Tates Creek gets to take a swing at a fourth title.
The Commodores will play the 8th Region champ (Collins or Spencer County) Monday night in the Forcht Bank/KHSAA State Tournament at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
Tates Creek will be one of the favorites in the 16-team competition, considering it is rated fourth in the state and has a talent-stocked lineup.
The Commodores also have history on their side: the 11th Region has produced six of the last 10 state champs.
Tates Creek has been on a tear in the post-season. It won its last four games by a combined score of 45-10.
Scott County was the latest to get hit by the buzzsaw.
Cardinals Coach Scott Willard wasn't surprised.
"Tates Creek was the best team I've seen in this region all year," he said. "They put so much pressure on you defensively, swinging the bat, and team speed. They're a complete baseball team."
Tates Creek led Scott County 5-1 after two innings, with Blake Rose and Jeffrey Chapuran each contributing two-run singles, and Luke Rouse an RBI double.
The Commodores added two runs in the fourth, including Jordan Fucci's RBI double, and single runs in the fifth and sixth.
The top third of the Tates Creek order — Devin Hairston, Rouse and Shelby — scored eight runs, giving them 24 in the last four games.
Tates Creek got solid pitching from Caleb Johnson in the finals. The senior right-hander scattered five hits, struck out 10 and walked one before letting Nick Richmond close the seventh.
"There was no doubt in my mind we were the better team," said Johnson, who improved to 9-0. "I wasn't at my best, but I had my offense and defense behind me.
"And 10 K's is good, too."
Johnson said the key to the Commodores' success is "team chemistry. It's been outstanding. I've never been with a tighter group of guys. We're like brothers."
"We knew all season we had a shot at this moment. We've all grown up together, all of us are athletes, and we've got the right lineup."
And the right attitude.
"We made up a little motto," Shelby said. "It's 'healthy, humble and hungry.'
"We're still hungry for a state championship."
Willard saluted his team's accomplishment of getting to the region finals for the first time since Scott County joined the 11th in 2006.
"This is really good for us," he said. "We've got a lot of juniors on this team, and hopefully they'll be hungry and ready to come back and compete next year."
TATES CREEK 9, SCOTT COUNTY 2
Scott County 010 100 0—2 5 1
Tates Creek 230 211 x—9 8 1
Chase Martin, Brad Seahorn (3), Zach Sutherland (5), Patrick Hughes (6) and Alden Gruchow. Caleb Johnson, Nick Richmond (7) and Nathan Black. 2B--Devin Hairston (TC), Luke Rouse (TC), Jordan Fucci (TC), Derek Gaines (SC).
Records—Scott County 23-14-1; Tates Creek 33-6
All-tournament: Caleb Johnson, Nick Richmond, Blake Rose, Tanner Hart of Tates Creek; Matt Gregory, Lukas Mudd, Austin Downey of Scott County; Clinton Hollon, Logan Parrett of Woodford County; Lucas Reynolds, Griffen Norris of Madison Southern; Jimmy Wright of Madison Central; Josh Dunn of Lafayette; Alex McKinney of Franklin County; Trae Mosley of Bryan Station.
At Whitaker Bank Ballpark in Lexington
Monday's first-round games
11 a.m. — Apollo vs. Mercer County
1:30 p.m. — 13th Region vs. 15th Region
6 p.m. — Henderson County vs. Letcher County Central
8:30 p.m. — 8th Region vs. Tates Creek
Tuesday's first-round games
11 a.m. — Ashland Blazer vs. 6th Region
1:30 p.m. — 7th Region vs. Logan County
6 p.m. — Harrison County vs. 9th Region
8:30 p.m. — Lone Oak vs. Central Hardin
6, 8:30 p.m. — Quarterfinals
6, 8:30 p.m. — Semifinals
7 p.m. — State championship
What: Forcht Bank/KHSAA State Baseball Tournament
When: Monday, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Whitaker Bank Ballpark
Who: 11th Region champion vs. 8th Region champion