The on-again, off-again, tarp-on, tarp-off, rain-and-lightning interrupted Rawlings/KHSAA State Tournament at Whitaker Bank Ballpark this week is further proof that high school baseball coaches have it a lot tougher than their brethren in basketball, football or any other sport, especially when it comes to postseason play.
How do you keep your players focused for a game that stretches over 16 hours and 10 innings, like Simon Kenton and Hazard weathered this week?
The stickiest wicket a coach faces in the state tournament is when to use his best pitcher. Send him to the mound in the first round, or risk saving him for the second game? Imagine a basketball coach being told he could only play his star point guard either in the first round or in the quarterfinals of the Sweet Sixteen.
Baseball coaches are the most second-guessed people in sports. The dugout offers no refuge. Unless, of course, it's raining.
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■ Brothers in arms. That's the Blanton brothers of Johnson Central. Seth Blanton was the winning pitcher in the Golden Eagles' 8-4 upset of No. 1 Tates Creek on Tuesday night. Seth's older brothers, Adam and Justin, also pitched in the state tournament for Johnson Central. Adam threw a complete-game three-hitter in a 2-1 victory over Ashland Blazer in 2004 in Whitaker Bank Ballpark. Justin worked an inning of relief in Johnson Central's 10-0 loss to eventual state champ Paul Laurence Dunbar in 2007.
■ Scott baseball coach Jeff Trame was disappointed but not dejected after his Eagles lost to South Laurel 4-1 in the first round of the state tournament. Trame was proud of his team's spirited run to the school's first region title in 26 years. Trame has a way of getting kids to excel in the postseason. He coached Covington Holy Cross to the state volleyball quarterfinals in 1988, and to the boys' Sweet Sixteen semifinals in 1991. The common thread among those teams? "Chemistry," Trame said. "We may not have had the best teams, but we played together, and the kids believed in each other. There was no animosity or jealousy. It's magical when that happens." Family ties made the region titles even more special. Trame's sister Susan played on the '88 volleyball team, his cousin Denny Hungler was on the '91 basketball team, and his son Andrew was a sophomore starter on this year's baseball team.
■ Union County's Kyle Griffin was the most impressive pitcher in the first round of the state tournament. The senior right-hander, who has signed with Wabash Valley (Ill.), lost to No. 3 St. Xavier 2-1, but he gave up only four hits (all singles), struck out 10 and walked one. Griffin's fastball touched 91 mph, and was consistently in the high 80s. He finished the season 8-3, with an 0.57 ERA. He had 124 strikeouts and just 30 walks in 73 innings.
■ Hazard's upset of No. 6 McCracken County on Monday was the first victory for a 14th Region team since the state tournament expanded to 16 teams five years ago. But Hazard Coach John Meehan and assistant Chris Haynes were already familiar with state tournament success. They both played on Hazard's 1980 team that beat Trinity 3-2 in the state semifinals before losing to Tates Creek 11-3 in the championship game. "Little Hazard can play baseball," Meehan said.
■ South Laurel baseball coach Wynn Harris, who has the Cardinals in the state tournament for the third time in six years, has a trusted adviser when it comes to getting his teams ready for postseason play. His father-in-law is Steve Wright, who coached South Laurel's boys to six region basketball titles and the 2005 Sweet Sixteen championship. He also coached Laurel County to the state tournament before the school split into North and South, and he guided Southwestern to Rupp Arena in 2012. "He could coach a jacks game and be successful at it," Harris said of Wright. "He just finds a way to get it done. He sends me words of encouragement and things to think about. Some of it's right on, and some of it I say, 'You're crazy,'" Harris added with a laugh. Harris is a baseball guy through and through. He and Stephanie Wright got married in 2006, when he was an assistant at South Laurel. They wisely scheduled their wedding after the state baseball tournament. Sure enough, the Cardinals made it to Whitaker Bank Ballpark that year. As head coach, Harris has gotten South Laurel back to the state tournament three times — 2009, '12 and '14.
■ Southwestern sophomore infielder Trevor Howard had a great season in helping the Warriors get to the state tournament. He batted .456 with 44 RBI and nine home runs. His first time up in Whitaker Bank Ballpark, he smashed a triple against Simon Kenton. He also flashed some nifty glove work and a strong arm at third base. Southwestern lost 2-1, but Howard made an impression.
■ Statistical trivia from state baseball historian Jim Swinford of Cynthiana: Since 1956, only three teams have hit five doubles in one game in the state tournament. Two of them — Conner and Tates Creek — did it Tuesday. Conner did it in its win over Boyd County. Tates Creek did it in its loss to Johnson Central. The only other team to collect five doubles in a game was Male in 2010 in a loss to Harrison County.
■ This was the first year since 2003 that neither Pleasure Ridge Park nor Harrison County won a region baseball title. PRP's Bill Miller, the winningest coach in state history, finished this season with 1,041 victories. Harrison County's Mac Whitaker is No. 2 on the win list with 1,012.
■ Lawrence County senior Joe Wallen came up aces in the postseason. He threw a complete-game shutout against Paintsville in the district semifinals, then pitched 15 scoreless innings in the 15th Region Tournament. He went the distance in beating Pikeville 2-0 (and UK signee Jacob Hamilton) in the first round. Wallen worked four innings of shutout relief and got the win against Belfry in the semifinals. He started the finals against Johnson Central and went four scoreless innings before leaving the game with a 1-0 lead. Wallen's playoff totals: 22 innings, no runs, 26 strikeouts. He plans to sign with Shawnee State in Portsmouth, Ohio.
■ Blake Rose, who started for Tates Creek's back-to-back 11th Region champs, has signed with Southeastern Iowa. Former Tates Creek pitching coach Mark Michael just finished his first season at Southeastern Iowa. Michael also helped the Blackhawks sign pitchers Jackson Stoeckinger of Mercer County and Dalton Pope of Bourbon County.
■ Remember Logan County pitcher CalebBruner, who as a sophomore in last year's state tournament came within one strike of throwing an eight-inning no-hitter against St. Xavier before losing 2-1? Bruner had a terrific junior season. The right-hander went 9-2 with a 1.13 ERA. He had 111 strikeouts and 19 walks in 741⁄3 innings. He batted .350 with 25 runs and 24 RBI, and struck out only 14 times in 135 plate appearances. Bruner has committed to Morehead State.
■ Lafayette sophomore Jacob Abbott will take part in the Perfect Game Junior National Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla., June 9-11. Abbott is rated No. 47 nationally and No. 1 in Kentucky in the class of 2016. He played third base for Lafayette this season.
■ The Kentucky-Indiana high school basketball rivalry gets going this weekend with the junior all-star games. Kentucky plays Indiana on Friday at Greenfield Central High School in metro Indianapolis. The girls play at 5 p.m., followed by the boys. The rematch is Saturday at Paul Laurence Dunbar, with the girls at 5:30, followed by the boys. Admission is $10. Next week Kentucky's senior all-stars play the junior all-stars twice in Lexington. They scrimmage Monday at Lexington Christian Academy, and Wednesday night at Bryan Station. The girls tip off at 6 each night, followed by the boys. Admission for the scrimmages is $6. The Kentucky and Indiana senior all-stars play June 13 at Transylvania's Beck Center, and June 14 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Tickets to the game at Transy are available online at www.kyallstars.net.
■ Scott County point guard Audriana Christopher has committed to play at Kansas City (Kan.) Community College, and backcourt teammate Rachel Young has accepted a walk-on offer from Bellarmine.
■ Lafayette senior guard Lance Blakley signed to play college basketball at Union. He averaged 8.1 points and 3.8 rebounds this season.
■ Graves County boys' basketball coach Terry Birdsong is leaving the Eagles to return to Calloway County. Birdsong led Graves County to 169 wins and two 1st Region titles in seven years. Previous to that he was at Calloway County for eight years and led the Lakers to 150 wins, and the school's only region title in 2003.
■ Clark County has hired Mike Riddle as its new football coach. He replaces Steve Collins, who was fired after going 3-19 in two years. Riddle is a former line coach under Bill Curry at Kentucky and Georgia State. Riddle played at UK in the late 1990s. He made coaching stops at Cincinnati Colerain and Lexington Catholic.