High School Sports

High school baseball: State tournament is power-packed

Tates Creek outfielder JaVon Shelby is one of the star players in the Kentucky state tournament this week at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
Tates Creek outfielder JaVon Shelby is one of the star players in the Kentucky state tournament this week at Whitaker Bank Ballpark. Lexington Herald-Leader

Talk about heavy hitters.

The Forcht Bank/KHSAA State Baseball Tournament that starts Monday at Whitaker Bank Ballpark has a lineup of traditional powers, top-10 teams, star players, legendary coaches, and up-and-coming programs.

"It does look like a strong field," Harrison County Coach Mac Whitaker said. "It should be a great week of baseball."

Seven teams rated in the top 10, and 12 in the top 25, speak to the quality of the competition. Several of them can be considered the favorite to raise the championship flag at Whitaker Bank Ballpark Saturday night.

No. 1 Central Hardin, state champion in 2011, is here for the fourth year in a row. The Bruins are led by senior pitcher/first baseman Drew Harrington, Gatorade's player of the year in Kentucky.

"With our schedule, we're as prepared as we can be," Coach Todd Thompson said. "I like this team. There are a lot of things we do well. But baseball's a funny game. You never know what'll happen."

No. 2 St. Xavier, which pulled off a three-peat in the rigorous 7th Region, is looking for its sixth state title, and its first since 1981.

The Tigers have a dynamic pitching duo in Sam Melchior and Ben Britt, and a great hitter in Austin Clemons. They beat PRP, Henderson County and Tates Creek this spring, but Coach Andy Porta said his team isn't overconfident.

"We learned our lesson last year when we lost to Bishop Brossart (in the quarterfinals)," he said.

No. 4 Tates Creek, a region champ for the first time in 23 years, hopes to revisit its glory days of state titles in 1978, '80 and '86.

The Commodores, led by Devin Hairston, Blake Rose, Jeffrey Chapuran and JaVon Shelby, may be the most athletic team. But Coach Dom Fucci thinks chemistry is his team's best asset.

No. 5 Henderson County, state champ in 2000, has eight of nine starters back from last year's state runner-up team. The Colonels are led by junior center fielder Kaleb Duckworth and pitcher/outfielder Sam Higgs.

"Losing in the state finals last year has been a big motivation for these guys," Coach Nathan Isenberg said. "They expected to win the district and region this year, and get another chance in the state."

No. 6 Pleasure Ridge Park which has won four titles under Bill Miller, is three-peat 6th Region champ stacked with experienced talent.

The Panthers have pitching depth (Kyle Olliges, Greg Laughlin and Hunter Johnson), and solid hitting (led by Josh Beams and Alex Miller.

"We've got a veteran ball club that has good pitching, good defense and good speed," Bill Miller said. But in baseball, anything can happen."

No. 9 Lone Oak and No. 10 Ryle have been robust at the plate all season. If their bats stay hot, they could do some damage.

No. 12 Collins is led by Nate Clifton, whom Coach Roy Bailey Jr. considers one of the best center fielders in the state.

No. 13 Mercer County, runner-up to Central Hardin in 2011, is in the tournament for the third year a row, so it has competitive chops. But Coach Jeremy Shope likes to cast his Titans as underdogs.

"There's a lot of big names in this thing," he said. "It's a humbling experience to see Mercer County in there with the elite. We're a little ol' country school that tries to play a little baseball."

No. 15 Harrison County is a county school, too, but it's one of the elite. The Thorobreds have won four state titles under Whitaker, the last one coming in 2010.

No. 16 Apollo has an undefeated ace in Tanner Edge, a Murray State signee, and No. 21 Ashland Blazer has a star in Logan Salow, who is headed for UK.

Salow, a senior pitcher/center fielder, has a string of 22 scoreless innings, including a perfect game against Lawrence County a couple weeks ago. Ashland will be an underdog in its first-round game against PRP, but Tomcats Coach Jeff Wilcox doesn't mind the competition.

"We love the opportunity to play one of the best teams," he said. "It's a challenge, but we feel if Logan is on his game, it could be interesting."

North Laurel has a UK signee in center fielder Marcus Carson, who's batting over .500 and has scored 57 runs.

Letcher County Central is here for the second time in four years, while Prestonsburg is in the state tournament for the first time since 1948.

Three of the winningest coaches in state history will be working in Whitaker Bank Ballpark this week.

PRP's Miller is the all-time leader with 1,011 victories. Harrison County's Whitaker is third with 987. Apollo's Bob Mantooth is fifth with 867.

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