For the second game in a row, St. Xavier jack-of-all trades Ryan Nicholson came up huge to help the Tigers advance in the KHSAA State Baseball Tournament at Whitaker Bank Ballpark in Lexington.
In Thursday's opening round against defending champion PRP, the junior manufactured what turned out to be the game-winning run when he led off the seventh inning with a triple then scored on a throwing error. In Saturday's quarterfinal matchup with Boyle County, Nicholson did the bulk of his damage from the mound. He pitched five innings, allowing five hits and one unearned run while striking out five and picking up the win as the Tigers prevailed 9-5.
Boyle County took a 2-0 lead in the top of the second as two runs scored on a fielding error. The Tigers jumped ahead for good with a five-run third inning that included an RBI single by Nicholson and a two-run double from Andrew Littlefield. They added four more runs in the fifth to put the game away and finished with 11 hits on the day.
The Tigers will face Hazard in the semifinals next Friday at 6 p.m. as they continue their pursuit of the program's second state title in three years.
Hazard upends Greenup at the wire
With the game tied heading into the final inning, Hazard's Bailey Blair came up clutch in the spotlight to send the Bulldogs past Greenup County, 7-5.
After Hazard's first two batters walked to begin the top of the seventh Blair doubled home the go-ahead run. Devin Morris added an insurance run with a sacrifice fly. Blair then brought home the victory from the mound.
The junior sat down the last three Greenup batters in order, finishing off two scoreless innings of relief to earn his second win of the year. He also went 2-for-3 at the plate with three RBI. Gage Hughes had a solo home run for Greenup.
Purples rally past Indians
With runners on second and third and in imminent danger of losing a hard-fought three-run lead, Bowling Green needed a rescue. Hard-throwing junior Trevor Dennis provided just that for the Purples, as his late-game pitching heroics secured an 8-6 comeback victory over Madison Central in the first round on Friday night. The Indians led 5-3 before Bowling Green pulled ahead.
Dennis, who spent most of the game as designated hitter, took the mound in relief in the bottom of the sixth with one out, two Madison Central runners in scoring position and his team leading 8-5. He struck out the first batter but walked the next two, giving the Indians a free run.
He nearly walked a third straight batter, but recovered from a 3-1 count to strike out Madison Central's Matthew McQuain and end the inning. Dennis earned the save, as he struck out two and coaxed a flyout in the final frame to advance the Purples to a Saturday night quarterfinal matchup with McCracken County.
On the offensive side, Dennis was also highly effective, as were most of the Bowling Green bats. Dennis finished with a single and an RBI-double that helped jump start a five-run rally in the top of the sixth.
McCracken cruises past Camels
Experience proved vital in McCracken County's first round win over Campbell County on Friday evening.
A Mustangs roster laden with eight seniors piloted a potent lineup over the Camels, 14-3, in five innings. Those seniors have been to the state tournament every year of their high school careers.
"They've been here before," McCracken head coach Geno Miller said. "We've been very fortunate and blessed to have been here now for the fifth year in a row and its very comfortable to come out here and play on this field right now."
Senior outfielder Rook Ellington sure looked comfortable as he led the Mustangs with three runs and three hits. The UK commit drove in two runs and stole a base.
As a team, the Mustangs had 13 total RBI on 13 hits and seven walks. At least four McCracken players had multiple RBs. Sophomore Connor Dismore led the team with four.
Junior pitcher Jacob Ehling, who boasted a 0.99 ERA and eight wins coming into the tournament, was solid on the mound. Ehling struck out seven and walked none.