It was drama on the diamond Friday night as Louisville Butler held on to beat Pikeville 3-2 in the semifinals of the Forcht Bank/KHSAA State Tournament at Applebee's Park.
The ending featured a classic matchup of an overpowering pitcher against a hot-as-August hitter.
Butler, looking to earn its first trip to the state finals, sent Kyle McGrath to the mound in relief to start the bottom of the seventh and protect a one-run lead.
McGrath, a senior left-hander who has signed with Eastern Kentucky, had rung up 16 strikeouts in a Monday victory over Boone County.
McGrath walked leadoff man Randy Maynard, who moved to third on a wild-pitch strikeout and a passed ball.
With two outs, Pikeville's Gavin Miller came to bat.
Miller was 9-for-11 for the tournament, and had eight consecutive hits.
McGrath was unaware of those frightening numbers.
"I'm glad I didn't know," he later confessed.
Pikeville Coach Steve Priode said he told Miller, "If you get one grooved, I'm turning you loose."
Miller liked McGrath's first pitch and ripped it toward the right-field gap, but Austin Fuqua was positioned perfectly and caught the ball.
"My heart sank as soon as he hit the ball," Butler senior Daniel Pardue said. "I thought it was a hit for sure, but Austin got it."
Scoring opportunities were few for both teams on the muggy night.
Pikeville took a 1-0 lead in the first on Miller's single that drove in Steve Layne.
Butler tied it in the fifth on Dewight Bigbee's double and Ryan Jessee's single.
The Panthers regained the lead in the bottom of the inning when Maynard scored on a fielder's choice.
Butler got the tying and go-ahead runs in the sixth. Zach Lucas and McGrath got back-to-back singles, and Pardue, the designated hitter, ripped a two-run double down the right-field line.
"Biggest hit of my life," Pardue said.
Fuqua relieved starter Cameron Clark with two outs in the fifth and retired all four batters he faced.
But Coach Greg Lauder called on McGrath to pitch the seventh. "I've seen very few kids step up in big situations like him."
That's why McGrath will get the ball in Saturday's title game.
"In reality, we couldn't ask for a better scenario," Lauder said.
Pikeville was trying to become only the third 15th Region team to make the finals in the last 20 years. Paintsville won the title in 1990, and Lawrence County was runner-up in 2008.
"A couple of things go different right there, and we win the ball game," Priode said.
Layne Cecil, who won Monday's opener against Perry Central, came back against Butler and went the distance. He gave up seven hits, striking out three.
"It's unbelievable what these kids accomplished this year," Priode said. "It was a dream season."
Butler 000 012 0—3 7 3
Pikeville 100 010 0—2 6 2
Cameron Clark, Austin Fuqua (5), Kyle McGrath (7) and Ryan Jessee. Layne Cecil and Taylor Ratliff. W—Fuqua. L—Cecil. 2B—Dewight Bigbee (B), Daniel Pardue (B).
Records—Butler 29-11; Pikeville 26-11