In a rematch of a first-round dogfight from last season’s state baseball tournament, revenge wasn’t in the cards for Caldwell County.
Scott County pitcher Jordan Fox was nearly untouchable, tossing a complete-game one-hitter to lead the Cardinals past the Tigers 4-0 in the opening round of the KHSAA State Baseball Tournament at Whitaker Bank Ballpark on Friday night.
Last year, Scott County topped Caldwell County 1-0 in the opening round on a walkoff line drive by Cooper Robb in the eighth inning. This time around the offense gave Fox a little more wiggle room, as the Cards manufactured a run in the third inning without notching a hit, then scored three runs on four straight two-out hits in the bottom of the sixth for a 4-0 lead.
It was more than enough support for Fox. After giving up a two-out single in the top of the first, Fox retired 14 straight batters before Tate VanHooser reached on an error by Cardinals third baseman Trace Wilhoite. But Fox responded with two straight strikeouts to end the top of the sixth, then sat down the Tigers in order in the seventh to send the Cardinals back to the quarterfinals. Fox struck out six and didn’t issue a walk, throwing strikes on 55 of his 87 pitches.
Scott County Coach Scott Willard said the sophomore’s command of his off-speed pitches makes him a particularly difficult matchup for opposing hitters.
“He’s got great movement and he can throw his curve ball for strikes on any count. And when they’re looking fastball, he’s able to throw a breaking ball in there,” Willard said. “He loves pitching on a big stage. He wants the ball in the big game.”
Even the pitching matchup was a repeat of last year’s contest. Fox once again outdueled Caldwell County ace Shane Burns, who went the distance as well. Burns, a junior with scholarship offers from Morehead State and Eastern Kentucky, struck out eight and walked two. The first free pass proved costly.
Scott County center fielder Cam Hill drew a walk to lead off the bottom of the third, then went all the way to third on a hit-and-run groundout by Sam Sutton.
“(Burns) was really slow to the plate so it was easy to take second, then as soon as I saw the guy look at first base I knew he wasn’t gonna look at me, so I had to take advantage of it.” Hill said.
Hill came home on Trace Wilhoite’s groundout to shortstop, and the Cards were in business.
“I felt a lot less pressure after that run,” said Fox. “I just wanted to go out there and not give up anything.”
Scott County’s offense gave Fox even more breathing room in the bottom of the sixth as Kyle Harbison and Cade McKee singled with two outs. Brice Fryman’s double scored pinch runner Preston Rankin, bringing junior Ryan Hannabach to the plate as a pinch hitter.
Hannabach began the season as the Cardinals’ starting third baseman and cleanup hitter. But he broke his ankle in the first game of the season against Male. After being cleared by doctors on May 29, Hannabach went 0-for-3 as a pinch hitter in the 11th Region Tournament. But Willard had a feeling he was due.
“I went back and looked at the book and saw that he had two hits against Burns last year so I thought I’d just stick him in there and see what he could do,” said Willard.
Hannabach responded with a triple that cleared the center fielder’s head and rolled to the wall, scoring two. Fox did the rest.
“Jordan was unbelievable out there,” said Hill. “Any time we have him on the mound I guarantee you we’re gonna win.”
Scott County will look to reach the semifinals for the first time in school history when it faces McCracken County at 6 p.m.
Doty pitches Highlands past Johnson Central in revenge game
Friday’s second rematch from last year’s state tournament yielded a different result. In the final game of the first round, Highlands knocked off Johnson Central 3-1, avenging last season’s 6-2 opening-round loss to the Golden Eagles.
Bluebirds starter Ethan Doty was in a groove all night, allowing just one run on two hits and striking out 12 as he tossed a complete game on 123 pitches.
Doty’s spectacular performance nearly bumped up against a KHSAA rule that limits players to 120 pitches per game. The rule allows pitchers to finish the at-bat during which the limit is surpassed. Had Johnson Central’s final batter reached base, Doty would have had to come out. Instead, he ended the game with his final strikeout.
“We really wanted him to go out there and finish it for multiple reasons,” said Highlands Coach Jeremy Baioni. “The kid pitched his tail off, he deserved to go out there and finish this thing up.”
Asked how it felt to repay Johnson Central for last year’s defeat, Doty was succinct.
“Revenge is sweet, let’s just say that,” he said.
A bizarre fourth inning in which the Bluebirds scored two of their runs was all the support Doty needed, and the inning began with the senior hurler at the plate.
Batting cleanup, Doty worked a full-count to lead off the fourth. On the sixth pitch of the at-bat, he skied a foul ball directly behind home plate, but Johnson Central catcher Blake Gamble dropped the ball. Doty walked on the next pitch.
Pinch runner Cooper Schwalbach moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Drew Rom, then Kyle Finfrock drew another walk and was replaced by pinch runner Grant Summers. The runners moved to second and third on a misfired pickoff attempt by Johnson Central pitcher Braxton Kelly, bringing Bryce Ziegler to the plate.
Ziegler laid a fantastic bunt down the first-base line and Schwalbach scored on the suicide squeeze. Summers was caught in a rundown between third and home, but the umpires ruled Johnson Central’s shortstop interfered in the base path and awarded Highlands a second run. Golden Eagles Coach Shawn Hall argued the call with both the home-plate and first-base umps, to no avail.
The Bluebirds added another run on Doty’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fifth.
Johnson Central finally got to Doty in the top of the sixth. Geordon Blanton led off with a triple that carried to the center-field wall and scored on a fielder’s choice.
But Doty retired five of the final six batters to send the Bluebirds to a quarterfinal matchup with Pleasure Ridge Park on Saturday at 8:30 p.m.
“Wow, that was a ride. All my adrenaline was rushing and I was just ready to go throw strikes. I had my team behind me … we were all into the game and that’s all that matters, we were having a great time.”
11 a.m.: Simon Kenton vs. Muhlenberg Co.
1:30 p.m.: Marion Co. vs. Knox Central
6 p.m.: McCracken Co. vs. Scott Co.
8:30 p.m.: Highlands vs. PRP