High School Baseball

'They're almost goofy,' but McCracken Co. closes state quarterfinals with a shutout

Dust flew from the glove of Highlands catcher Evan Lewin as he caught a pitch during the state baseball quarterfinals against Paintsville.
Dust flew from the glove of Highlands catcher Evan Lewin as he caught a pitch during the state baseball quarterfinals against Paintsville. swalker@herald-leader.com

The McCracken County offense has put up 30 runs through two games thus far in the KHSAA state baseball tournament, and they've looked comfortable doing it. Their coach let loose the secret to their success.

"They're almost goofy," Mustangs head coach Geno Miller said as three of his players — one wearing a Darth Vader mask — staged a lightsaber showdown behind him. "They're kind of a goofy group anyway, but hey whatever's working for them."

The Mustangs' upbeat baseball was definitely working for them as they shut out the Bowling Green Purples 16-0 in a five-inning, second round KHSAA State Baseball Tournament game at Whitaker Bank Ballpark on Saturday night.

From a raucous dugout that posted 12 RBI through four innings came an endless racket of barking, taunting and screaming at opposing pitchers and teammates alike.

"Yeah, we're definitely goofy," senior Rook Ellington said. "We're trying to take that positive goofiness and channel it onto the field."

A long, seven-run first inning sealed the deal for the Mustangs. In the frame, one runner stole home, another two scored on balks and Ellington put an exclamation point on the inning when he batted in three runs on a triple. He was thrown out on the same play as he dared to reach home after his slide plowed through the third baseman and the ball got away.

McCracken County used 12 hits and seven walks through 24 at-bats to reach its run total. Junior Dylan Schneider was credited with the Mustangs' shutout win as he struck out six Purples and allowed three hits through five innings.

McCracken County advanced to face Highlands on Friday at 8:30 p.m. in the semifinals at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.

Bowling Green's players, families and fans did everything they could to honor Paul Gray, a beloved Warren County photographer who died Saturday at the age of 66 after he collapsed on the field during Friday night's game.

A pre-game standing ovation and a plush koala bear placed near the visitor's dugout honored Gray. Players wrapped wrists with white tape and wrote "PG" on them, students joined together in prayer and Gray's brother photographed the game in his stead.

Cameron Wallace of Bowling Green said a prayer for photographer Paul Gray with other graduates of Bowling Green High School before the Purples played McCracken County. "Every picture he took was free, he was a selfless man," Wallace said. Silas Walker swalker@herald-leader.com

Highlands 5, Paintsville 0

The perfect blend of team defense and pitching gave the Bluebirds a shutout over the Paintsville Tigers.

"He was painting corners. He did a fantastic job," Highlands head coach Jeremy Baioni said of his senior pitcher's perfomance. "When you do that, your defense is ready to play. They're ready to make plays, and our guys did a fantastic job behind him."

Hunter Dreves was dominant from the mound for all seven innings. He struck out eight, secured seven groundouts and only allowed two hits.

"Just had to come and perform, trying to do it for my team," Dreves said. "I really want to get a ring senior year."

On two separate occasions, Tigers runners were thrown out at home. The first was a part of a double play in the second. The next came in the top of the fourth when Paintsville tried to steal home in an attempt to manufacture some offense.

With runners on the corners, Dreves delivered his pitch. The runner on first sprung for second, while the man on third hoped for home as the catcher looked to throw out the runner headed for second.

Shortstop Ethan Kavanagh quickly fielded the catcher's throw and fired back at home. Bryce Ziegler, the catcher, caught the perfectly placed ball and tagged the runner out as he slid in face first. Ziegler jumped up and made a few remarks to the runner who tried to take home on him.

"I don't know what he said," Dreves said with a smile. "I don't know."