Lexington Catholic knows who it is.
With a deep pitching staff anchored by University of Kentucky commitment Trip Lockhart and Eric Sottile, the Knights’ path to the state baseball tournament begins on the mound.
“We’ve got four or five really good guys ... and we tell our guys we’re a pitching-and-defense team,” said Taylor Brooks, who’s in his seventh season leading the Knights. “If we can get the bats rolling along with that, we can be dangerous. As long as we pick it up and make the team plays we can be fine.”
Their bats got rolling in the second game of a home-and-home with Paul Laurence Dunbar on Wednesday. LexCath connected for eight hits in a 10-4 win to sweep the Bulldogs and pick up its fifth win in the 43rd District.
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Catholic’s postseason fate is in its own hands. the Knights split their home-and-home with Lafayette (who is rated above or slightly below LexCath in the top 10 of every major ranking) two weeks ago but the Generals split their games with Tates Creek. If Catholic can sweep the Commodores (among the top 20 teams in the state) on May 9 and 10, it’ll secure the top seed in what might be the state’s toughest district.
Lexington Catholic has not reached the state tournament since 2011 following a run of three 11th Region titles in four seasons.
“As coach says, we control our own destiny,” said Lockhart, who leads Catholic with 37 innings pitched and 48 strikeouts with a 1.51 ERA. “If we win games, we keep going. If we lose, it’s on us.”
Lockhart and Sottile (31 innings, 1.78 ERA) are LexCath’s 1-2 guys in the rotation, but it was senior Sam Hodges who shut down Dunbar as it started to rally in the second game of the series.
Brooks called Hodges, who owns a 0.88 ERA in 23 2/3 innings pitched, “a competitor” who has given the program three great years. Lockhart put it more succinctly.
“He’s a dog,” Lockhart said. “He’s a dog.”
Seniors Steven Bender and Bo Bennington are two more experienced pitchers in the Knights’ arsenal. Bender, third in innings pitched for the Knights with 28 and owner of a 1.25 ERA, has arguably been more lethal off the mound: He’s batting .405 (second behind Ben Wilcoxson, who’s hitting .444), has a team-best 13 RBI and is tied with Tyler Grigalis for the team lead in home runs (three). Sottile and Grigalis have scored 11 runs each, right behind Bender’s 13.
“They’re all competitors, so any time you can get a guy that competes at the plate, that’s one big step toward the right direction,” Brooks said.
Eight of Catholic’s 18 wins have come in games when it scored four or fewer runs. The Knights have given up five or more runs only four times this season but are 1-3 in those contests. Catholic is undefeated when it scores at least five runs. The Knights have plated more than five in eight games this season, five of those coming in the last two weeks.
Early on, offensive struggles contained the Knights’ confidence and contributed to a 5-4-1 start. Catholic is 13-1 since then and took an eight-game winning streak into the Louisville Invitational Tournament this weekend.
It doesn’t hurt to have the bats warming up three weeks before district tournament action begins.
“The offense is coming around now, but we were struggling a little bit. I think we were getting ourselves down, having a bad at-bats, then taking it with us as the game goes on,” Lockhart said. “I think we’re moving past that and we’re playing a whole lot better now.”
Part of LexCath’s struggles to start the season were attributable to early barrages from the opposition in addition to the Knights’ own slow offensive starts. When a two-run shot to right field gave Dunbar a lead after Sottile faced its first two batters, doubt could have crept into the dugout again.
But Catholic responded with three runs of its own in the bottom half of the inning and didn’t look back. Midseason growth in action.
“I like that we got down two runs and stayed the course. We got down two runs early and came back and put up three. It’s nice to see guys play through adversity, and focusing on the process, and playing your game, and winning every inning, all those clichés.”
Those clichés can become rallying cries for coaches and players. And sometimes, if there’s enough faith, those oft-repeated words can turn into action.
“We believe them,” Brooks said. “So if you can worry about yourself and how you play the game and continue on your style of play, then you’re gonna be OK.”
Lexington Catholic knows who it is. It’s a believer.