High School Baseball

Giants have owned Kentucky’s baseball playoffs. What little guys have a shot in 2019?

State baseball tournament photo slideshow: St. Xavier 9, Boyle County 5

St. Xavier defeats Boyle County 9-5 in the quarterfinals of the 2018 Whitaker Bank/KHSAA State Baseball Tournament
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St. Xavier defeats Boyle County 9-5 in the quarterfinals of the 2018 Whitaker Bank/KHSAA State Baseball Tournament

The 21st century so far has not been friendly to baseball programs outside of Kentucky’s major population centers.

In the 18 KHSAA baseball championship games played beginning in 2001, all but three featured at least one program from either Lexington or Louisville. The outliers: Central Hardin over Mercer County in 2011, Woodford County over Henderson County in 2012 and West Jessamine over Highlands in 2015.

Schools outside the major concentrations of people have won titles; Harrison County High School, whose county checks in at 61st in statewide population among the 120 counties, is the standard-bearer, having won four since 1993. It remains the smallest school to win a state championship since Y2K, the Thoroughbreds’ last one coming in 2010.

Lexington Christian Academy is the only All “A” Classic participant that has gone on to win a KHSAA state title since the annual small-school baseball event began in 2004. Beechwood reached the KHSAA final in 2006, losing to Lexington Catholic. Four other All “A” schools — Middlesboro in 2002, Pikeville in 2010, Bishop Brossart in 2012 and Hazard last yearhave made the semifinals this century.

The big boys haven’t gone anywhere — defending champion St. Xavier, rival Trinity and a number of powerhouses around Lexington and its neighboring counties are loaded with talent — but several schools that are of either Class “A” distinction or outside the “Golden Triangle” could make noise in the 2019 postseason. Here’s a primer.

BRACKET: 2019 WHITAKER BANK/KHSAA STATE BASEBALL TOURNAMENT

BEECHWOOD

At a glance: Yea, the Tigers reside in Kenton County, only the third-most populated area of the state after Louisvillle and Lexington, but they’re arguably the state’s best shot at becoming the first non-private Class A school to win a championship since Paintsville did it in 1990. Beechwood has won three of the last four All “A” Classic state titles and entering the week was the state’s only team with one loss. It suffered that one against fellow 9th Region contender Highlands, 7-5, at Great American Ballpark the night before it drove to Owensboro to conquer its small-school brethren; a week later the Tigers shredded the Bluebirds, 16-5, at home.

Big name: Senior center fielder Logan Castleman is making the most of his final season before heading to Wright State in the fall. He’s batting .646 with 50 RBI and 25 stolen bases this season. He has more home runs (seven) and has been hit by a pitch (six) more times than he’s struck out (five) in 2019. There are a number of deserving Mr. Baseball candidates for the coaches association to consider this season, and Castleman’s definitely one of them.

CORBIN

At a glance: The reigning 13th Region champions brought back a number of individuals from last year’s team that fell to Hazard in the opening round of last year’s state tournament, a battle that could be renewed in this year’s semi-state round if both teams get out of their district tournaments and go on to win their regions later this month. Corbin’s lost a few head-scratchers — it has fallen twice to North Laurel, a fellow region challenger with a sub-.500 record and a -37 run differential — but also boasts some big wins (9-5 over Tates Creek at a neutral site, 12-2 over Madison Central in six innings.

Big name: Chase Estep, the starting quarterback in Corbin’s second straight appearance at the Class 3A football finals, got the start in last year’s state tournament opener and continues to be an ace for the Redhounds. The University of Kentucky signee has pitched only 18 innings — fifth-most on the team — but has struck out 15 batters, given up just seven hits and allowed just one earned run, good for a 0.39 ERA. He’s batting .534 with five home runs and 32 RBI, and he has stolen 17 bases this season.

DANVILLE

At a glance: Danville has never played in a state tournament, but the Admirals are a legitimate threat to come out of the 12th Region. It’s one of three teams in the state, along with Beechwood and Rowan County, to cross the 30-win threshold before the final week of the regular season, and boasts a 15-1 record against 12th Region foes (the lone loss was to Boyle County, 5-3, avenged the next day, 7-2). One significant hurdle to a state debut beyond just winning its region is the fact that the 12th Region is paired with the 11th Region — in which six teams currently ranked in the top 25 reside — in the semi-state round.

Big name: There’s still a lot of baseball to be played but it looks like the 2021 Mr. Baseball winner could come out of Danville. Ethan Wood, a University of Louisville commit, is as intimidating physically — he’s 6-foot-6, 220 pounds — as his skills in the diamond. He’s one of four pitchers on Danville’s staff with a sub-2.00 ERA (his is 1.48, with 54 strikeouts) and Wood leads the team in batting with a .451 average. He has knocked out 12 homers, tied with Woodford County’s Charlie Corum for most in the state, and he has driven 48 runs.

LOGAN COUNTY

At a glance: The 4th Region is no cakewalk — Logan County’s one of four teams with 20-plus wins and one of five with double-digit wins within the region — but there’s potential for the Cougars to make their second state tournament trip and first since 2013, and if they get there could spoil another team’s visit thanks to a few big bats and consistent pitching. Its schedule is something of a concern; Logan County hasn’t played a single team in the top 20 and split its two meetings with the only current top-25 team it has faced, fellow 4th Region contender Bowling Green.

Big name: Parker White, a junior, is ninth in the state with a 0.79 ERA with five starts and nine total appearances. He’s not a monster at the plate — he’s hitting .229 with two home runs — but is tied with three other players for the seventh-most walks in the state with 25.

ROWAN COUNTY

At a glance: Boyd County, which won it all in 2001, is the only 16th Region school to win a baseball state title since Ashland won three straight from 1966-68. Rowan County leads the state in wins (32) and has lost only three times in 2019, but it has reached the state tournament just once since the 1980s. That stay was short; the Vikings fell in nine innings to Muhlenberg County in 2017’s first round. Rowan County’s overall schedule is on the softer side but it has several impressive victories this season against some of the state’s other top clubs: 3-0 over Paul Laurence Dunbar, 6-0 over Pleasure Ridge Park and 15-0 over Scott County.

Big name: A.J. Hacker as a sophomore started in that 2017 game against Muhlenberg County and would love the opportunity to come back to Whitaker Bank Ballpark in June. He won’t travel far for college — he’s going to Morehead State, which happens to also be the site of the semi-state game between the 15th and 16th Regions. Hacker has made a name for himself as a pitcher (0.74 ERA, 99 strikeouts in nine starts and 11 total appearances) but holds his own with the bat: he hits .452 and has knocked eight balls out of the park this season.

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