An eventful fourth inning proved to be decisive when determining the second finalist in the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA State Baseball Tournament.
Highlands defeated McCracken County, 4-3, to advance to its second appearance in the championship round. The Bluebirds will face St. Xavier, the top-ranked team in the state and the No. 8 team in the nation, 7 p.m. Saturday at Whitaker Bank Ballpark in Lexington.
McCracken County overcame a 2-0 deficit in the top of the fourth Friday night thanks to an RBI single and a throwing error. Highlands answered with two more runs in the bottom of the frame, plating runs on a single by Ethan Kavanagh and a bounce by Bryce Ziegler to the shortstop that was ruled an error.
James Dodd hit an RBI single to pull the Mustangs within a run in the top of the seventh but they stranded two runners after back-to-back infield pop-ups.
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It is the second straight season a northern Kentucky team will face a Louisville team for the championship; Pleasure Ridge Park defeated Simon Kenton for last year's title. Highlands lost to West Jessamine, 10-3, in its only previous finals trip in 2015. The Bluebirds lost to St. Xavier, 4-3, in the only regular-season meeting between the teams.
"We played 'em the last day of the regular season and played 'em really well, but that's a good team that hits one through nine," Highlands Coach Jeremy Baioni said. "Their pitchers are really good, they play great defense. It's gonna be a tall task but it's the state finals, anything can happen. We're gonna give it a run."