All season long, Scott County Coach Scott Willard told his Cardinals — whose lineup is comprised mostly of underclassmen — not to talk about what they were going to accomplish down the road. Scott County’s eight seniors still wanted to make some great memories, and to dismiss that would be disrespectful to the work they’d put in over the years.
That message was heard loud and clear. Scott County defeated Western Hills 6-2 in the 11th Region championship at Lafayette on Wednesday night, giving the Cardinals their first 11th Region title and their first official state tournament appearance. (Scott County’s four 8th Region titles and state-sectional trips in the previous format don’t count as state appearances in the KHSAA record book.)
“You never know what’s gonna happen in the next couple of years, so you just take your opportunities when they come,” Willard said. “ ... Some things fell our way this week and we took advantage of some of the breaks we got.”
Scott County knocked off Franklin County in the first round before ousting No. 8 Lexington Catholic in the semifinals on Tuesday. It overwhelmed Western Hills early on Wednesday, using a four-run second inning to take a 4-0 lead. The Cardinals didn’t give up a run to the Wolverines — making their first region finals appearance since 1989 and entering with a program-record 27 wins — until the top of the sixth
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That was in large part due to the strength of Sam Sutton on the mound. After a shaky first inning — he loaded the bases but got out of the jam — the sophomore pitched into the seventh before allowing Cam Hill to close things for the second straight night. Sutton finished with 11 strikeouts, five hits and just one earned run.
“I came out a little bit nervous,” Sutton said. “ ... But I calmed down and tried to get the win for the team.”
Ryan Hannabach, a sophomore, finished 5-for-10 with five RBI over three games in the tournament. He hit two home runs, including a two-run, go-ahead blast against Lexington Catholic on Tuesday.
Hannabach said Scott County’s run through the 11th Region has been “surreal,” especially after the Cards were considered a .500 club coming into the year. Their 8-0 sweep of the 42nd District (including two playoff wins) boosted their confidence; that was the first time Scott County had swept its district competition since moving to the 11th Region in 2006.
“You always dream about having big games and always trying to help your team out,” Hannabach said. “And it just came true in three games this year.”
Trey Ogle, a senior, said Scott County was motivated by its first-round loss in the 42nd District tournament a year ago. His class recognized the talent underneath them and wanted to lead by example. This edition of the Cardinals — this “Bird Gang” — has been more like a family than others, Ogle said.
“Whatever your role is, embrace it,” Ogle said of Scott County’s mentality this year. “If you’re a pinch runner or a regular guy or just a pitcher only, you gotta be supportive of the other guys out there with you. That’s what’s helped us to this point.”
After the game, Ogle showed off his hand, which “got all bloodied up” from scrapes during the week. It was worth it, he said, because the “Bird Gang” is going to Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
“I couldn’t be any happier,” Ogle said.
Wheatley, Etherington (3) and Howard; Sutton, Hill (7) and Kopp. W—Sutton. L—Etherington. 2B—Anglin (WH).
Records: Scott County 27-10, Western Hills 27-10.
Scott County vs. Caldwell County-Union County winner
What: Rawlings/KHSAA State Baseball Tournament
When: June 10, 6 p.m.
Where: Whitaker Bank Ballpark in Lexington