High School Baseball

Thanks to pitching rotation, Henry Clay's mood is rosy

Henry Clay's baseball team has a sunny outlook, even when the weather is gray and gloomy as it was Monday when the Blue Devils' game against Paul Laurence Dunbar was rained out.

Henry Clay is 12-8 and unranked, but a solid pitching staff, led by senior left-hander Nolan Fernandez, has first-year coach Jordan Tarrence and his players feeling good heading into the last few weeks of the regular season.

Fernandez, Walker Buehler and Derek Bush have helped the Devils fashion a 2.87 earned run average.

"Our pitching is the reason I'm optimistic," Tarrence said. "When it comes down to the region (tournament), with those three guys we should be in every game."

Fernandez is the ace. He's 3-1 with a 0.44 ERA, and he's been at his best in the city. He hasn't given up an earned run while going seven innings apiece against No. 2 Lexington Christian, No. 5 Tates Creek and Bryan Station.

Fernandez, who led Henry Clay in innings (51) and strikeouts (51) last spring, said he has "a lot more confidence this year, and that's made me a whole lot more accurate."

Buehler, a sophomore right-hander, is 2-3, including a strong five-inning victory against Bullitt East. Bush, a junior righty, is 3-0.

"Our pitching is a lot better this year, and that makes us compete better," said junior shortstop Corey Bays.

"We're in closer games every day, and we know if we get a few hits and a couple runs, we can beat most teams."

Bays, the leadoff man, is batting .404 with 18 runs. Hitting behind him are senior catcher Ryan McCray (.418, 16 RBI) and senior second baseman Ethan Boggs (.340, 14 RBI).

"My job is to get on base," Bays said. "Ryan does a good job getting me in, or over to the next base. And Ethan gets us in. They've done a spectacular job getting us runs."

Tarrence agrees.

"I'll put our 1-2-3 hitters up against anybody's," he said.

Outfielders Field Engle (.323) and Matt Cox (.300) have contributed timely hits. Fernandez (.316) has seen spot duty in the outfield, too.

"If we show up with our 'A' game," Fernandez said, "I think we can compete with any team in the state."

Henry Clay got off to a 3-5 start, which may have had something to do with Tarrence taking over as head coach from Herb Hammond, who had the Devils among the state's elite for most of his 17 years at the helm.

Tarrence played for Bob Mantooth at Apollo and was an assistant there for three years. He was on Hammond's staff at Henry Clay two years before this season.

Tarrence, 25, said he learned a lot from Mantooth and Hammond.

"Both of them showed how you can win by playing the game the right way — by throwing strikes, making the routine plays and putting the ball in play — even if you don't have the most talent on your team.

"And they were both very structured, very organized, very detail-oriented."

Bays said the coaching transition from Hammond to Tarrence has been "pretty smooth," and that he expects the Devils to continue to get better as they adopt their new coach's philosophy.

Part of that philosophy is to think positive, even on rainy days and Mondays.