Pitching was the dominant theme as Johnson Central and McCracken County claimed the opening two games of the Rawlings/KHSAA State Baseball Tournament at Whitaker Bank Ballpark in Lexington on Thursday.
In the opener, Johnson Central put together a big sixth inning to knock out Highlands 6-2. McCracken County followed up with an 8-3 victory over Elizabethtown that featured a stunning display of small ball.
The winners get a day off before going head to head in the quarterfinals Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
Johnson Central 6, Highlands 2
The starting pitchers allowed no runs through four innings and struck out a combined 14 hitters. Scoring finally broke out in the fifth inning, but it was the sixth that sealed the win for Johnson Central.
Braxton Kelly struck out eight and allowed only one run to lead Johnson Central. Ricky Raisor allowed three runs on five hits and struck out six in taking the loss for Highlands.
Highlands scored first on an RBI single by Trey Bowden in the fifth. Johnson Central wasted no time answering the Bluebirds’ score, tying things in the bottom of the inning when Jacob Harless singled and later scored on a fielder’s choice.
Josh Hitchcock replaced Kelly on the mound to start the sixth, and Highlands regained the lead. Sam Hennigan’s sacrifice bunt drove home Joe Steiden for a 2-1 lead.
That’s when things fell apart for Highlands (23-18). The Golden Eagles (33-9) scored five runs in the sixth on only two hits, thanks to a pair of errors, a walk and a hit batsman by the Bluebirds.
Austin Davis and Harless paced Johnson Central’s seven-hit attack with two apiece.
“We are not a great offensive team, but Highlands helped us out a little bit out there,” Johnson Central head coach Shawn Hall said. “They had a couple miscues and I think that loosened us up at the plate and enabled us to get a couple runs over.”
McCracken County 8, Elizabethtown 3
McCracken County put away the Panthers with four runs in the third inning and another three in the fourth and won despite committing four errors.
Both innings featured oddities. A hit batsman, two walks, a pair of wild pitches and a fielder’s choice opened the door to the Mustangs’ first two runs in the third.
In the fifth, McCracken County (36-5) loaded the bases with three straight bunts down the third-base line by Daniel Myatt, Keegan Breese and Ian Walters. Reid Pope was hit by a pitch to force home a run and extend the Mustangs’ lead to 6-0. Rook Ellington’s single to center drove home another pair.
E-town (28-13) finally broke through with a run in the sixth and two in the seventh, but McCracken starter Caleb Reinhardt was never seriously threatened. He tossed a complete-game five-hitter, striking out seven and walking only one.
“The kids have wanted it so bad, and you could even see there toward the end they were making some uncharacteristic errors there pressing with an 8-1 lead,” Mustangs Coach Geno Miller said. “You just try to do everything as a coaching staff to calm them down, but they wanted it bad.”