The first two rounds of the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA State Baseball Tournament are in the books, but there's plenty of action left to unfold.
Kentucky's last four baseball teams remaining in title contention will resume play on Friday at Whitaker Bank Ballpark. Here's a recap of what has happened to this point and a look ahead to the semifinals.
David meets Goliath
Hazard finally broke through after exiting before the semifinals during each of their previous three trips under Coach John Meehan. The Bulldogs upset Greenup County, 7-5, to reach the penultimate round for the first time since 1995.
Meehan was an assistant coach for the last Hazard team that made it this far. Pleasure Ridge Park defeated Hazard, 7-5, in the 1995 semifinals on its way to the second of three straight state titles.
The Bulldogs have played in the state championship game once — 1980, when Tates Creek got the better of them, 11-3. Meehan also was part of that team, which used a two-run rally in the bottom of the final inning to upset Trinity, 3-2, in the semifinals.
Hazard will need to channel that energy to knock off St. Xavier, the older of Louisville's two private-school juggernauts. The Tigers have been ranked No. 1 in the state for most of the season and might have already eliminated the second-best team in the field; St. X overcame PRP, 13-7, after scoring six runs in the top of the seventh inning to put the Panthers away. The Tigers overcame an early deficit against Boyle County before cruising to a 9-5 decision in the quarterfinals.
St. X is bidding for its second state championship in three years and its eighth overall (it leads the state with seven). Hazard aims to be the first Class A-size school to win it all since 2005 (Lexington Christian Academy, now a Class 2A school) and the first non-private small school to do it since Paintsville in 1990.
Chance for first-timer
The team that comes out of the second semifinal will be playing for its school's first baseball title on Saturday.
Highlands, which fended off South Oldham (4-2) and Paintsville (5-0) to make it to Friday, has become a tournament fixture since ending a 32-year gap between appearances in 2015. The Bluebirds that season reached the finals, where they fell to West Jessamine, 10-3. This is their first semifinals trip since that year.
They'll meet McCracken County, which is in the semifinals for the third straight season. The Mustangs bowed out to the eventual state champion in each of the prior years (St. X in 2016 and PRP in 2017). McCracken County hasn't missed a state tournament since its program started in 2014, but it's never played for a championship (Lone Oak, one of the three schools that consolidated to form McCracken, played in the 1963 finals).
While Highlands' margins were narrow in the first two rounds, McCracken walked away with run-rule outcomes in its games. The Mustangs eliminated Campbell County, last year's state runner-up, 14-3, before shutting down Bowling Green in a 16-0 victory.
Four teams, four stars
- University of Kentucky signee Rook Ellington, McCracken County's leadoff hitter, is 5-for-7 with six RBI and four runs scored through two games.
Devin Morris recorded 16 strikeouts and allowed only three hits in Hazard's opening-round win over Corbin. He went 2-for-3 with an RBI and one run scored in the victory against Greenup County.
- Drew Rom got the start in Highlands' opener against South Oldham, throwing a complete game with 10 strikeouts while giving up four hits. The next day he went 2-for-4 with an RBI against Paintsville. Rom has signed with Michigan but last week was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the fourth round with the 115th overall pick of the MLB Draft; he has not yet announced his final decision.
- St. Xavier's Ryan Nicholson, who's committed to Cincinnati, went 2-for-4 with two RBI and scored the go-ahead run after hitting a leadoff triple against PRP in the top of the seventh inning. He turned around and got the win in the Tigers' victory over Boyle County, giving up five hits and one earned run while striking out four batters.
First-round box scores
Game 2: Hazard 5, Corbin 1
Game 5: Highlands 4, South Oldham 2
Quarterfinals box scores
Game 9: Hazard 7, Greenup County 5
Game 10: St. Xavier 9, Boyle County 5
Game 11: Highlands 5, Paintsville 0
(Provided by the KHSAA via StatBroadcast)
Game 13: Hazard vs. St. Xavier, 6 p.m. Friday (semifinal)
Game 14: Highlands vs. McCracken County, 8:30 p.m. Friday (semifinal)
Game 15: Championship, 7 p.m. Saturday
Video coverage of the tournament's final three games will be available through KHSAA.tv as part of the NFHS Network, which requires a subscription. Links to those streams are below.
The NFHS Network offers one subscription option — a monthly pass for $9.95 that will renew automatically until the subscription is canceled. A subscription also grants users access to games aired by the NFHS Network from other states. Click here to purchase an NFHS Network subscription.
Live video: Hazard vs. St. Xavier, 6 p.m. Friday
Live video: Highlands vs. McCracken County, 8:30 p.m. Friday
Live video: Championship, 7 p.m. Saturday