Jody Hamilton calls his West Jessamine baseball team the "Cardiac Colts" because they've regularly tested their fans' tickers this spring.
The Colts did it again in the first round of the Rawlings/KHSAA State Tournament as they rode a wild roller-coaster to an 11-6 victory over Ballard on a chilly night at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
West Jessamine advances to face Elizabethtown in Thursday's quarterfinals.
The Colts provided seven innings of anxiety against Ballard. They trailed 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 before taking a 6-3 lead. But Ballard rallied to tie it 6-6 before West Jessamine got two runs in the sixth to take the lead for good.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
The 12th Region champs added three insurance runs in the seventh on Trey Merida's bases-loaded double.
"They call us the Cardiac Colts because we tend to make it interesting," said Maxx Mahon, whose two-out infield hit drove in the go-ahead runs in the sixth. "I wish we didn't make it so interesting sometimes, but we find a way to win, and I hope we continue to do that."
Merida, who had three hits, four RBI and two runs, credited the team's senior leadership. "That's the big thing," he said. "We got down but we just kept rallying around each other and got the job done."
Hamilton is used to seeing his team battle out of tough situations. "They've done this all year,." he said. "I'm proud of the way they kept coming up and getting big hits and having great at-bats."
None were bigger or better than Mahon's.
Facing sidewinder Kyle Riesenberger, Mahon worked the count to 3-2 and fouled off several pitches before hitting a grounder up the middle. Ballard second baseman Nick Johnson smothered the ball, then stretched out to tag the bag. The umpire ruled the runner reached it first.
Tucker Greer and Merida raced home to give the Colts an 8-6 lead.
"I was expecting some off-speed, and I kept fighting it off and I was finally able to hit a chopper and it worked," Mahon said. "That's baseball. You gotta put it in play and put the pressure on the defense. That's how you win games, especially in the state tournament."
After tying it 2-2 in the fourth, West Jessamine took a 6-3 lead in the fifth. Greer got things started with a one-out double, and Trey Merida's single drove him in.
After Kendall Peters and Mahon walked, Troy Merida (Trey's identical twin), delivered a two-run single to make it 5-3. Jonathan Jackson capped the inning with an RBI groundout.
Ballard answered in the bottom of the fifth with Broc Kuerzi's two-run single closing the gap to 6-5, and Riesenberger tying it with a two-out RBI single.
But the Cardiac Colts took over from there.
Besides Trey Merida, West Jessamine's offense was led by Jackson, with two hits and three RBI, and Greer, with three hits and three runs.
Joseph Ivey started on the mound and gave up three hits and three runs in four innings. Mahon worked the last three innings and picked up the win. He gave up five hits, three runs, struck out three and walked one.
Ballard, which upset defending state champ St. Xavier in 7th Region finals, was led by Kuerzi and Matt Lewis, who had two hits and two RBI apiece.
West Jessamine 11, Ballard 6
West Jessamine 010 142 3—11 11 2
Ballard 020 130 0— 6 8 2
Joe Ivey, Maxx Mahon (5) and Jonathan Jackson. Jack Dillon, Tyler Horsley (3), Jordon Adell (5), Kyle Riesenberger (5), Brandon Wilson (7) and Jack McCreery. 2B—Tucker Greer (WJ), Trey Merida (WJ), Adell (B).
Records: West Jessamine 33-7; Ballard 23-16-1.