When sports visionary Alan Stein looks into his crystal ball, he sees not one, but two, high school Sweet Sixteens in Lexington: the basketball tournament in Rupp Arena every March, and a baseball tournament at Applebee's Park every June.
Stein, president and CEO of the Lexington Legends, has been batting the idea around for about 10 years, dating to when he first started talking about bringing minor-league baseball to town. Once he got a ballpark built, he wanted to make full use of it, including hosting a 16-team high school championship.
”I remember saying I'd love to have a companion to the Sweet Sixteen basketball tournament someday. Behind the scenes I've been pushing the idea with the KHSAA, and I hope it eventually happens. It'd be great for baseball, and it'd be great for Lexington.“
Applebee's Park first hosted a four-team state baseball tournament in 2002. It expanded to eight teams in 2003. The event has been an unqualified success, with record crowds.
It's time to make it even better, with 16 region champs from across Kentucky coming to Applebee's Park and lacing up their cleats.
A lot of coaches don't like the current playoff format anyway. It's nonsensical to sandwich single-elimination region and state tournaments around best-of-three semi-states.
Julian Tackett of the KHSAA said his organization, including the decision-making Board of Control, is open to suggestions and proposals.
A 16-team tournament would be doable by holding first-round games on Monday and Tuesday, taking Wednesday off, playing quarterfinals on Thursday, semifinals on Friday and the championship game on Saturday. Stein said it would be no problem to have the Lexington Legends out of town for a full week.
Tackett said there's ”virtually no way“ to change baseball's playoff format for 2009 because of the time it takes for the administrative process. Maybe we'll see it happen in 2010.
”It would make the KHSAA money and make us money,“ Stein said, ”but the biggest thing is, it would be what's best for high school baseball. When I travel the state, I hear about how excited kids are to get to Applebee's Park. The more teams we bring, the more excitement among the kids, and that's what we all want.“
■ Christian Academy of Louisville has been the biggest surprise of baseball's post-season. The Centurions won the 7th Region by upsetting Trinity in the semifinals and St. Xavier in the finals. They opened semi-state play by scoring three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to beat Central Hardin 7-6 on Tim Anderson's walk-off single. That victory nudged CAL's record over .500 at 18-17.
■ Greenup County pitcher Tyler Hieneman's state-record 37-inning scoreless streak came to an end in the semi-state opener against Estill County. But the Musketeers won 12-2, and Hieneman was terrific. He threw a complete-game three-hitter, allowed no earned runs, and improved his record to 8-0.
■ Heath star pitcher Daniel Webb didn't have a good outing as the Pirates lost to Apollo 10-3 in their semi-state opener. Webb hit four batters and had four wild pitches. Scouts from the Yankees and Twins were in attendance.
■ Zack Cox threw a no-hitter, had 13 strikeouts and smacked a home run to lead top-ranked Pleasure Ridge Park to a 5-0 win over Anderson County in their semi-state opener.
■ Knox Central senior infielder Tyler Hendrickson finished his high school career in style. In the Panthers' 11-7 loss to Corbin in the first round of the 13th Region tournament, Hendrickson hit a grand slam in his last high school at-bat. Earlier this season, Hendrickson was part of another high school rarity — back-to-back-to-back homers. Jacob Scalf, Hendrickson and Justin King belted consecutive homers against Cumberland Gap (Tenn.).
■ Perry County Central and Lee County had an interesting semifinal baseball game in the 14th Region. PCC won 16-14 in a game that featured 13 errors, six runs scored off passed balls, and 10 batters hit by pitches.
■ Clark County senior catcher Jordan Barker was the 10th Region player of the year after batting .506 with 10 homers and 57 RBI. He was behind the plate for all of the Cardinals' 72 games the last two years.
■ If you want to follow Scott County's girls in the state fast-pitch softball tournament, the school's Internet radio crew will carry all their games from Owensboro. Go to www.scottcountystats.com and click on the softball tourney link. Mike Ritchie and Scott Willard will do the broadcast.
■ Mac Whitaker has resigned as Harrison County's girls' basketball coach after nine years and an overall record of 203-75, including 10th Region titles in 2000 and '02. Whitaker is in his 31st year as Harrison County baseball coach.
■ UK recruit and Mr. Basketball Darius Miller will play one more time on his high school home court when the Kentucky All-Stars scrimmage a group of junior all-stars in the Mason County Fieldhouse Monday night at 7 p.m. Miller, Scotty Hopson of University Heights and Shelvin Mack of Bryan Station headline the Kentucky team. The junior all-stars include Madisonville's Jon Hood, who has committed to UK, Russ Middleton of Mason County, Vee Sanford of Lafayette, Nick Hudson of Dunbar and Richie Phares of Scott County. Admission is $5. The boys' all-stars also scrimmage Wednesday at Lexington Catholic at 7. The girls' Kentucky All-Stars scrimmage at Franklin-Simpson Monday night, and at Montgomery County Wednesday night. Kentucky's boys and girls play Indiana June 13 in Indianapolis and June 15 in Louisville.
■ Harrison County has named Aaron Stepp its new football coach. He succeeds Ray Graham, who left to become an assistant at Lexington Christian. Stepp coached Clay County the last six seasons. After the Tigers went 0-10 in his first year and 4-6 the second, Stepp led them to records of 8-3, 6-5, 7-4 and 7-4. ”We believe he is one of the bright young coaches in Kentucky,“ Harrison County Athletic Director Lee Kendall said.
■ Jason Howell, who was named Paul Dunbar's football coach this week, said it's going to be a different experience when the Bulldogs face Tates Creek this season. He was a Commodores assistant the last three years. ”It's going to be tough to look across the field and coach against my friends, a group of guys I got to know pretty good,“ Howell said. ”It'll also be a coaching situation where, "I know what you know, and you know what I know,' so I've got to come up with some new tricks,“ he added with a laugh. ”It'll be interesting, and it'll be fun.“
■ Tates Creek alumnus Kevin Jarvis, who pitched in the major leagues for 12 years before retiring after the 2006 season, is back in the game as a pro scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He lives in Nashville and scouts mostly players in the minor leagues, plus he is assigned five teams in the majors. Jarvis lives in Nashville.
■ Lafayette product Jayson Langfels was named a Louisville Slugger freshman All-American after hitting .304 with 37 RBI for Eastern Kentucky this season.
■ Chaz Roe, a Lafayette graduate and Mr. Baseball in 2005, was out with an injury the first part of the minor-league season. He's pitching again for the Modesto (Calif.) Nuts, a Class A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. Roe is 2-1 with a 5.49 ERA, 16 strikeouts and three walks in 19 innings.
■ Maysville St. Patrick alumnus and former UK golfer Mark Blakefield, who won the Hooters Tour title in Georgetown a few weeks ago, shot a 63 in a Monday qualifier to make the field for his first Nationwide Tour event. Blakefield shot a 1-under 70 Thursday in the first round of the Rex Hospital Open in Raleigh, N.C.
■ Kelsey Floyd, a senior-to-be at Tates Creek, qualified for the Olympic trials in the 100-meter butterfly by swimming a 1:02.17 at the Ohio State Grand Prix meet. (The qualifying time was 1:02.39.) Floyd swims for Tates Creek and Wildcat Aquatics. She is a three-time high school All-American, twice in the 100 butterfly and once in the 100 backstroke.
■ Dunbar's Griffin Davis signed to swim at DePauw University in Indiana. He plans to major in kinesiology. DePauw is four-time defending champ in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference and was rated 11th in the nation last season.
■ Paintsville basketball legend J.R. VanHoose, Mr. Basketball in 1998, has been named to Marshall University's athletic Hall of Fame. VanHoose finished his career as Marshall's fifth-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder. He will be inducted in August.
■ Ron Reed is the new girls' basketball coach at Russell. He coached the Red Devils' boys for five years in the early 1990s.