High School Sports

Also-ran now ‘primed and ready’ after ending 42-year gap between region championships

The Montgomery County baseball team celebrated its 10th Region championship victory on Monday.
The Montgomery County baseball team celebrated its 10th Region championship victory on Monday.

Chris Varney wasn’t around in 1977, the last time Montgomery County High School won a region baseball title. He was born the following year.

Now Varney, two years into his tenure as the Indians’ skipper, has them on the verge of their first official trip to the state tournament since the 1977 team turned that region title — earned as a member of the 15th Region — into a final four appearance. Montgomery County run-ruled Campbell County, 11-1, in six innings on Monday night to win its first 10th Region championship.

This is the first year since 2009 that a semi-state round has preceded the actual state tournament. Under such formats, the KHSAA does not officially recognize every region champion as a state-tournament participant. Due to that technicality, Montgomery County will have to overcome 9th Region champion Beechwood in the semi-state round Saturday to end a streak that goes back four decades; that game is scheduled for 4 p.m. at UK’s Kentucky Proud Park.

That doesn’t mean the people of Mount Sterling are any less thrilled.

“The community is so excited,” Varney said. “They haven’t done it in such a long time and they’ve kind of been the Little Sisters of the Poor in the 10th Region for such a long time. I think it’s just a huge relief for the community. We’ve arrived, I guess.”

Montgomery County was a stranger to winning, but not Varney. He twice won region titles as a player at Hazard in the early 1990s, then two more there as an assistant coach. He also guided Powell County to 14th Region championships as a head coach in 2006 and 2012; the Pirates were the first casualty of Woodford County’s title run in 2012, falling 4-3 to the Yellow Jackets on a walk-off single at state.

A bit of irony: Before the 2006 region title at Powell, that program also had a streak going back to 1977 between championships.

“If ‘77s got a job open, man, let me know,” Varney said with a laugh.

The Indians lost in last year’s region finals their first appearance in that round since 2004. Varney said Campbell County “smoked us” in that finals — the Camels clobbered the Indians, 17-0, in five innings — and that memory was all the fuel Montgomery needed to tear through the 2019 postseason. It allowed a total of nine runs in five postseason games, six of those coming in a 9-6 victory over Bourbon County for the 40th District title. The Indians outscored their regional opponents 36-2 in a total of 16 innings played.

“This year they were a year older, a little bit more pissed off, wanted a little bit of revenge, that type of deal,” Varney said. “They were primed and ready.”

Three pitchers — Seth Adams, Tyler Jacobs and Luke Fuller — have started eight games each for the Indians. Jacobs, a junior, leads the team with a 1.33 ERA and the Indians collectively have a 1.89 ERA, the fifth-best mark among teams who’ve consistently filed stats reports with the KHSAA this season (a little less than half the schools in the state have not complied).

“We’re gonna throw strikes and we’re gonna catch it,” Varney said. “And then offensively we’re just gonna try and press the you-know-what out of you with our speed and athletic ability and try to make some things happen.”

Jacobs also leads the team in batting with a .500 average, going an even 50-for-100 at the plate so far with 24 RBI and a team-high 41 runs scored. Devin Johnson, a sophomore, leads the team with 33 RBI and three home runs. Eight Indians bat better than .300.

Ending the streak between region titles — especially after getting so close last season — was discussed frequently throughout the season. Montgomery’s players took ownership of achieving their goal, Varney said, and met it.

The Indians are looking forward to their shot at Beechwood, the winner of this year’s All “A” Classic state tournament and the only one-loss team in the state.

“‘I’ve been here, I’ve done this,’” Varney would tell his players throughout the season. “’I want you to experience it. I don’t want it for myself, I want it for you.’ I’ve got a great bunch of kids.”

Next game

Montgomery County vs. Beechwood

What: Semi-State 5 matchup

Where: UK’s Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington

When: 4 p.m. Saturday

Records: Montgomery County 28-6, Beechwood 37-1

Josh Moore is in his first year covering the University of Kentucky football team and in his fifth year reporting for the Lexington Herald-Leader, where he’s been employed since 2009. Moore graduated with a B.A. in Integrated Strategic Communication and English from UK in 2013. He’s a huge fan of the NBA and Power Rangers.