FRANKFORT — Henry Clay is in the 11th Region baseball finals for the first time since it won the title 10 years ago, and a spectacular catch by Matt Cox Tuesday night helped put it there.
Cox, a senior center fielder, made a spectacular leap-and-grab to rob Western Hills' star J.T. Riddle of a two-run homer in the fifth inning, and the Blue Devils held on for a 3-1 semifinal victory at Franklin County.
Henry Clay (24-13) advanced to Wednesday night's region finals where it will face No. 6 Lexington Christian Academy (25-10).
LCA reached the finals with a thrilling 7-6 victory over No. 7 Madison Central.
The Eagles rallied from deficits of 3-0 and 5-3 to take a 6-5 lead in the sixth.
After Madison Central tied it in the top of the seventh, LCA won it on Austin Bundy's squeeze bunt that scored Evan Stephens.
Henry Clay 3, Western Hills 1: Cox, a standout defensive back in football, used his ball-hawking instincts to track down Riddle's soaring hit.
"I had a bead on it, got a great jump and made the play," Cox said.
Henry Clay catcher Ryan McCray wasn't as reserved in his description of the snag.
"When Riddle hit it, I thought it was over the trees, then all of a sudden I saw the ball coming down, Matt jumping up and making the catch," McCray said.
"It blew my mind."
Devils' first-year coach Jordan Tarrence said he had never seen a home run-robbery in person before.
"It was unbelievable."
Western Hills Coach Seth Knight agreed: "Best high school catch I've ever seen. Period."
Cox's heroics helped secure the victory for Henry Clay pitcher Nolan Fernandez.
The senior left-hander didn't have his best stuff or control — he had five walks — but he bore down and got the big outs. He gave up three hits and struck out six.
"He battled, which is what you expect from your No. 1 pitcher," Tarrence said.
Henry Clay's offense mustered just three hits off sophomore Ryan Barrass, but combined with four Western Hills' turnovers, that was enough.
The Devils got a run in the first when Field Engle reached on an error and came home on Ethan Boggs' single. They added two runs in the second when Marcus Young and Cox reached on errors, and Corey Bays drove them in with a double.
No. 19 Western Hills scored in the third when Fernandez walked two batters before surrendering an RBI single to Andrew Cammack.
The Wolverines threatened in the seventh, and had a runner at second with one out.
Fittingly, Cox ended the game by making a running catch on a sinking line drive, and throwing to second to double up the runner.
LCA 7, Madison Central 6: On June 1, 2005, Madison Central lost to LCA in the region finals on a walk-off home run in the 10th inning, and the Eagles went on to win the state title. Five years to the day later, LCA broke the Indians' heart again.
The Eagles showed their resilience by fighting back all night.
"We love this team and the way God has gifted these guys to be able to do a lot of things, offensively and defensively," Coach Keith Galloway said.
Madison Central, boosted by a monster-mash home run by Austin Hunt, built an early 3-0 lead, but it didn't last.
LCA got three runs in the third, with Steven Hoagland's two-run single capping the rally.
Isaac Smith doubled in runs for Madison Central in the fourth and sixth to make it 5-3.
LCA stormed back with three in the bottom of the sixth, with Will Kindred's two-out single pushing across the go-ahead run.
After Madison Central tied it in the seventh, LCA quickly loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh when Zach Harmon hit the first two batters, and walked the third.
With one out, Galloway called for the squeeze, but Bundy fouled off the first bunt attempt.
Galloway didn't hesitate to call for it again.
"He showed confidence in me," Bundy said.
Bundy rewarded that confidence with a bunt that scored Stephens and won the game.
"When we get down, we expect to get back up," Bundy said.
Western Hills 001 000 0—1 3 4
Henry Clay 120 000 x—3 3 1
Ryan Barrass and Cody Hecker. Nolan Fernandez and Ryan McCray. 2B—Corey Bays (HC), J.T. Riddle (WH).
Records—Western Hills 21-9; Henry Clay 24-13
Madison Central 210 101 1—6 8 3
Lexington Christian 003 003 1—7 8 1
Nicky Edwards and Isaac Smith. Nate Coon, Adam Shewmaker (5), Clay Hall (7) and Steven Hoagland. 2B—Smith (MC), 2; Cole Metcalfe (MC), Will Kindred (LCA). HR—Austin Hunt (MC).
Records—Madison Central 29-11; LCA 25-10