How to explain four-time state champion Harrison County's long-running baseball success, including a first-round victory in this year's Forcht Bank/KHSAA State Tournament?
"Matter of pride," Brandon Kendall said after pitching a complete-game three-hitter to lead the Thorobreds past Ryle 4-1 in front of 2,071 fans at Whitaker Bank Ballpark on Tuesday night.
Harrison County Coach Mac Whitaker's lineup included four sophomores, and an eighth-grader (at shortstop!), but the young guys handled themselves like veterans.
"We've just got gritty, hard-nosed kids who expect to win," Whitaker said.
Sophomore catcher Robbie Stroub smiled and nodded when told of Whitaker's choice of words.
"That's a great description," Stroub said.
Nobody was grittier than Kendall.
Whitaker heard some second-guessers when he decided to start Kendall instead of fellow senior Jordan Martin, who as a freshman beat Butler in the 2010 state finals.
"I said, 'Hey, we've got two aces, and both can do the job,'" Whitaker said.
Ryle Coach Pat Roesel thought Kendall looked like an ace: "The boy on the mound was the name of the game. He did a great job,."
Stroub was impressed by Kendall's performance, too.
"Brandon hit the outside corner great, and his curveball was on point. His cutter was a little rough, but we'll get it there," Stroub said.
Kendall, a right-hander who improved to 6-1, was relaxed even though this was his first time pitching in the state tournament.
"I've been playing with these guys for 4 or 5 years now, so I know what they can do, and I knew they'd back me up," Kendall said.
He also got some advice from Martin.
"He told me to throw strikes and let (the defense) back me up," Kendall said. "That's what I tried to do."
Harrison County got all the runs it needed with three in the second.
The Thorobreds loaded the bases on a single by Alex Kinsey and walks to Cody Honeycutt and Brandon Case. Stroub singled in pinch-runner Jordan Riley, and Kendall followed with a two-run single.
"I'm not known as much for my (hitting)," Kendall said. "But I can do it every once in a while."
Ryle scratched out a run in the third. Dylan Plvan singled and eventually scored on a groundout.
Harrison County got an insurance run in the sixth. Alex Kinsey singled and wound up scoring on a Ryle error.
Ryle's Thomas Bauman led off the top of the seventh with a grounder that shortstop Brett Persinger booted.
But the eighth-grader didn't let the mistake faze him. The next batter grounded to Harrison County sophomore second baseman Case, who flipped to Persinger for the force at second, and Persinger rifled a throw to first to complete the double play.
Ryle's next batter hit a grounder to short that Persinger picked clean and made the throw to first for the final out.
"Amazing, isn't it?" Whitaker said of his Thorobreds' latest success.
Harrison Co. 4, Ryle 1
Ryle 001 00 0 0—1 3 1
Harrison County 030 001 x—4 7 1
Justin Hoard Tyler Mason (6) and Jake Ashley. Brandon Kendall and Robbie Stroub.
Records: Ryle 32-8; Harrison County 25-7
PRP 5, Ashland Blazer 0
St. Xavier vs. Logan Co.
Harrison Co. 4, Ryle 1
Lone Oak vs. Central Hardin (n)
6 p.m.: Mercer Co. vs. Prestonsburg
8:30 p.m.: Henderson Co. vs. Collins