Tates Creek's baseball team, which had been in full victory gallop since Kentucky Derby weekend, couldn't find the winner's circle in the Forcht Bank/KHSAA State Tournament on Monday night.
Collins, a savvy team from Shelbyville, beat Tates Creek 6-4 in a first-round game at Whitaker Bank Ballpark, ending the Commodores' 19-game winning and spoiling their first appearance in the tournament in 23 years.
One bad inning did in Tates Creek.
No. 12 Collins erupted for six runs in the second inning off Commodores ace Caleb Johnson, and the Titans never loosened their grip on the lead in front of 3,061 fans.
"You never expect to get six runs off Tates Creek like that," Collins Coach Roy Bailey Jr. said. "Then when you play with a lead, you can do a lot of different things offensively, and you can be a lot more aggressive in the strike zone. We were lucky to get an inning like that."
No. 4 Tates Creek didn't go down without a fight. It scratched out a run in the fifth and another in the sixth to make it 6-2.
The Commodores made it interesting in the seventh when Austin Younce drew a lead-off walk, and one-out later Devin Hairston crushed a two-run homer to left.
But the comeback died there as reliever Buddy Johnson got a pop-up and fly-out to clinch the Collins' victory.
"We dug ourselves a hole there in the second inning," Tates Creek Coach Dom Fucci said. "We tried to make a run but just came up short.
"But I'm awfully happy for our kids. We had a nice run with this group, a good group of kids."
Dan Sanders got the win for Collins. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound senior right-hander worked into the sixth inning. He gave up four hits, two runs, struck out four and walked one.
"Dan's done it all year long," Bailey said. "He's 11-0 now. We put him out there this game for a reason."
Johnson gave up two hits and two runs, and had two strikeouts in relief.
Collins took control by getting six runs in the second off Johnson, who brought a 9-0 record into the game.
Mason Jeffries, who led off the inning with a single, scored the first run on what looked like a squeeze bunt attempt that never happened. Johnson's pitch was wide, in the dirt and scooted past catcher Nathan Black.
Johnson had uncharacteristic control problems. The unbeaten senior right-hander had walked only 10 batters in 59 innings coming into the tournament. But he walked three in the second against Collins, and all three batters scored.
The Titans got clutch RBI hits from Logan Bailey, Nate Clifton and Johnson.
The Commodores got on the board with a run in the fifth. Nathan Black singled to drive in Max Sweet, who was running for Younce.
JaVon Shelby led off the sixth with a double, and two wild pitches later he scored.
Aaron Mitchell pitched well in relief for Tates Creek. He worked the last 42⁄3 innings, gave up four hits, no runs and struck out six.
Mitchell got out of a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the sixth to keep the Commodores' flickering hopes alive.
Mercer County 4, Apollo 0: Mercer County's J.T. Long finally got to have some fun on the mound at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
Two years ago as a freshman, Long started in the state finals and was the losing pitcher as Central Hardin tattooed the Titans 21-2.
Last year he started in the first round against St. Xavier, and even though he pitched well, Mercer County lost 4-0. Long erased those bad memories by erasing Apollo with an impressive pitching performance in the opening game.
The junior right-hander scattered five singles, struck out eight and walked one in going the distance. He did it even though his fastball topped 80 mph only once.
"He's amazing to be able to compete the way he does," Mercer County Coach Jeremy Shope said. "He's not going to light up the radar gun, but the kid just flat knows how to pitch. It's about changing speeds and hitting spots."
Long credited "having a great defense behind me, and a great bunch of guys hitting the ball for us."
But he conceded that "when you don't top 80 (mph), you've gotta really focus on what type hitter is at the plate, working the inside and outside corners, and changing speeds."
Mercer County got all the runs it needed when it got three off Apollo ace Tanner Edge in the third.
The Titans loaded the bases on Trevor Tate's single, Chris Goodman's bunt single, and Dylan Logue's sacrifice bunt that Apollo turned into an error. After John Ingram's sacrifice fly drove in Tate, Layne Peavler's bunt single chased home Goodman.
After Russell Sims singled, Jon Banks made it 3-0 with a sacrifice fly.
Mercer County pushed its lead to 4-0 in the fourth on Goodman's solo homer down the left-field line.
Apollo Coach Bob Mantooth knew Long's reputation as a guy who could locate his pitches and change speeds.
"We expected what he did. He's a pitcher. I was impressed. I really like that he can get it done without the high-velocity stuff."
Prestonsburg 3, North Laurel 0: Prestonsburg hadn't been in the state tournament since 1948, but the Blackcats played with poise and polish in blanking North Laurel.
Trey Stapleton was Mr. Cool on the mound. He threw a four-hitter with nine strikeouts and one walk. The senior right-hander got out of a couple jams.
North Laurel, trailing 1-0, loaded the bases with one out in the fourth, but Stapleton got Logan Mallory to ground into a double play.
North Laurel, still down 1-0, threatened in the sixth. Marcus Carson led off with a double and was sacrificed to third. Stapleton escaped again by striking out the next two batters.
"He's our senior, our go-to guy," Prestonsburg Coach Shane Simpkins said. "We'll ride him till it's over."
Stapleton said he relishes tough situations.
"I love working under pressure," he said. "Put me in positions like that, that's when I bear down and focus."
North Laurel Coach Darren McWhorter thought his team would have better luck against Stapleton.
"He was throwing 80 or 81, but it looked like he was throwing 90, 91 to our kids," he said. "I was surprised. We've seen guys like that all year and been very successful scoring runs."
Stapleton's RBI single in the third scored Bryson Williams to give the Blackcats a 1-0 lead. They added two insurance runs in the top of the seventh thanks to five walks and a passed ball.
Carson, a senior center fielder/pitcher who's headed to UK, made a great throw from center in the third that gunned down a Prestonsburg runner at the plate.
Carson, a lefty, came on in relief to start the fourth. He had seven strikeouts in four innings, but he also issued five walks in the seventh.
Henderson County 11, Letcher Central 1 (6 innings): The Colonels put themselves in scoring position with nine hits, but they got lots of help from Letcher Central in scoring runs. Letcher Central pitchers issued 11 walks, including one with the bases loaded that forced in a run, and had three wild pitches.
Henderson County scored four runs on passed balls and got its last run on a bases-loaded balk.
"You take 'em when you can get 'em," Colonels Coach Nathan Isenberg said. "I like to think we put ourselves in scoring position, and that put pressure on them."
Henderson County lead-off man Kalen Duckworth reached base four times and scored twice. Justin Cessna had two hits, two runs and two RBI. Ryan Ward got on four times, scored three runs and drove in two.
Marty Coursey got the win for Henderson County. He pitched into the fourth before giving up a hit and three walks. Colton Jones came on in relief and got out of the bases-loaded, one-out jam with two strikeouts.
"I don't know if all the walks and wild pitches got us out of our rhythm," Isenberg said. "But that's probably the worst game we've played in two or three weeks. At this point, we'll take a win and move on."
Letcher Central (29-11) was led by senior shortstop/pitcher Jordan Short, who had two hits and scored his team's only run.
"We came in relaxed, but the longer the game went on the tighter we got," Coach Bryan Dean said.
Mercer Co. 4, Apollo 0
Mercer County 003 100 0—4 7 0
Apollo 000 000 0—0 5 1
J.T. Long and Curry Brown. Tanner Edge and Jakob Shuler. HR—Chris Goodman (MC).
Records: Mercer County 28-9; Apollo 29-9
Prestonsburg 8, North Laurel 0
Prestonsburg 001 000 2—3 8 0
North Laurel 000 000 0—0 4 0
Trey Stapleton and Dalton Shepherd. Weston Gabriel, Marcus Carson (4) and Ethan Maxey. 2B—Carson (NL), Adam Griffith (P).
Records: Prestonsburg 26-14; North Laurel 25-11-1
Henderson Co. 11, Letcher Central 1
Letcher Central 000 100— 1 3 3
Henderson County 320 141—11 9 1
Max Hall, Jordan Short (2), Caleb Baker (5), Jordan Rose (6) and Steven Fox. Marty Coursey, Colton Jones (4), Daniel Steiner (6) and Andrew Richmond. 2B—Daniel Steiner (HC).
Records: Letcher Cent. 29-11; Henderson Co. 30-8
Collins 6, Tates Creek 4
Tates Creek 000 011 2—4 6 3
Collins 060 000 x—6 8 1
Caleb Johnson, Aaron Mitchell (2) and Nathan Black. Dan Sanders and Zach Wiley. 2B—JaVon Shelby (TC). HR—Devin Hairston (TC)
Records: Tates Creek 33-7; Collins 33-6
Mercer Co. 4, Apollo 0
Prestonsburg 3, North Laurel 0
Henderson Co. 11, Letcher Central 1
Collins 6, Tates Creek 4Tuesday's schedule
11 a.m.: Ashland Blazer vs. PRP
1:30 p.m.: St. Xavier vs. Logan Co.
6 p.m.: Harrison Co. vs. Ryle
8:30 p.m.: Lone Oak vs. Central Hardin