The Whitaker Bank/KHSAA State Baseball Tournament begins Wednesday at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
Well, it might begin. Forecasts called for severe weather to enter Kentucky on Wednesday evening and possibly linger for a few days, threatening postponement of multiple tournament rounds.
The championship game is scheduled for Saturday night and the Lexington Legends — Whitaker Bank Ballpark’s main tenant — aren’t scheduled to play at home again until Monday, so there appears to be wiggle room if things get soggy. In the meantime, do your best rain dance while you familiarize yourself with the eight teams still in the hunt for a state title.
1 vs. 16
As far as rankings are concerned, the marquee matchup of this year’s quarterfinals pits McCracken County — the 1st Region champion — against Rowan County, the champ out of the 16th Region. Rowan County in the final coaches’ poll of the regular season was ranked No. 5 while the Mustangs weren’t too far behind at No. 7.
The Vikings (39-3) defeated Johnson Central, 5-0, in the semi-state round to secure their second trip to state in the last three seasons. They haven’t lost since April 2 (6-1 to 10th Region champ Montgomery County) and have surrendered only two runs in their last nine games (both to Ashland Blazer in a 12-2 five-inning victory that decided the region title). This year’s Mr. Baseball and Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year, AJ Hacker, has had a big hand in that; he brings to state a 0.55 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 76 2/3 innings pitched. He also bats .461 to lead Rowan.
McCracken County, whose first season was in 2014, went 6-for-6 in securing state tournament bids after rolling Hopkinsville, 14-1, in six innings at semi-state. Jacob Ehling (0.84 ERA in 58 innings) and Dylan Schneider (1.01 ERA in 52 2/3) lead the Mustangs’ rotation. Logan Verble (26), Grant Godwin (25), Grant Davis (24) and Brandon Dodd (21) all have driven in at least 20 runs this season.
The Fighting Tigers from Breckinridge County, champs from the 3rd Region, will make their state tournament debut this week.
They defeated South Warren, 7-3, in the semi-state round, avenging a 12-7 loss to the Spartans earlier in the season, to earn their 14th straight victory and their first state bid. Preston Cottrell went the distance in the historic win, giving up two earned runs on seven hits and a walk while throwing only 83 pitches. He for the season has a 1.37 ERA with 90 strikeouts.
Breckinridge’s reward for making their first dance? A date with Beechwood, all season long considered one of the state’s best squads. The Tigers were ranked second in the final coaches’ poll, behind only defending state champ St. Xavier (which fell to Trinity in the 7th Region finals). Beechwood boasts Logan Castleman, who’s batting a ridiculous .620 with 58 RBI, seven home runs and 69 runs scored. He’s stolen 34 bases for the Tigers, who’ve lost just one game all year.
Lexington vs. Louisville
A grudge match between the state’s biggest cities — and two of its most distinguished baseball programs — is in a prime-time slot Wednesday.
Pleasure Ridge Park, a winner of six state titles, tied for second-most in state history behind St. X, will meet Tates Creek —a three-time titlist, tied for fourth-most — for a chance to meet the winner between Beechwood and Breckinridge, who are scheduled to play before them.
PRP took sole possession of second place on the all-time state tournament list after securing its 19th trip with a 9-8 eight-inning victory over Taylor County in the semi-state round (Owensboro leads all programs with 22 visits). The Panthers in their preceding bout knocked out Bullitt East, 5-4, also in eight innings, for the 6th Region crown.
Tates Creek in its last two games piled up runs in the sixth inning to secure its first state tournament bid since 2014. The Commodores scored five runs to make a six-run cushion out of a one-run lead in the top of the sixth to claim a 7-1 win over Lafayette for the 11th Region crown. Four nights later they scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth to take control in a 6-2 decision over Somerset in the semi-state round.
Lexington Catholic was the last team from the city to win a state championship, achieving the feat in 2009. A public school from Lexington hasn’t won it all since Paul Laurence Dunbar did so in 2007. Tates Creek’s last title was won in 1986.
PRP and Tates Creek are the only teams among the final eight that have won state championships.
Tiny vs. Titan
Hazard for the second straight year will get a chance to play David to a Goliath out of Louisville.
The Bulldogs, who won their fourth straight 14th Region title with a 14-2 win over Breathitt County in five innings last week, eliminated fellow mountain contender Corbin, 2-1, in a 10-inning showdown at semi-state. They’ll face 7th Region champion Trinity, which had an easier time in the preceding round, defeating 8th Region champ North Oldham, 8-3.
Hazard last year played eventual state champion St. Xavier in the state semifinals. The Tigers walked away with a 3-0 victory but didn’t score until the final innings; Trinity’s 323 runs scored this season are the second-most in the field behind only Rowan County (401) and Beechwood (354).
State baseball tournament
When: Wednesday through Saturday
Where: Whitaker Bank Ballpark in Lexington
State tourney schedule
Games listed in bracket order
8:30 p.m.: Tates Creek (32-7) vs. Pleasure Ridge Park (27-9)
5:30 p.m.: Beechwood (38-1) vs. Breckinridge County (28-5)
5:30 p.m.: Rowan County (39-3) vs. McCracken County (31-7)
8:30 p.m.: Hazard (29-7) vs. Trinity (34-5)
5:30, 8:30 p.m.: Semifinals
7 p.m.: Championship game