Kentucky high school baseball has been a waiting game this spring.
Ridiculously wet weather washed out a good chunk of the regular season.
The sun came out for the district and region playoffs, but since then most teams have been in a 10-day holding pattern until the start of the Kentucky National Insurance/KHSAA State Tournament.
Finally, it's time to play ball again. The 16-team state tournament begins Monday at Whitaker Bank Ballpark, with 15 games scheduled over the next six days.
"It's been tough keeping the players' attention," Lexington Catholic Coach Taylor Brooks said. "They just want to get out there and play."
St. Xavier Coach John Jefferson agreed.
"We're used to playing three or four games a week," he said. "The worry is getting out of rhythm.
"But I'm sure everybody will be ready to go again."
Lexington Catholic and St. Xavier, rated 1-2 in the last regular-season poll, are two of the favorites.
No. 4 Central Hardin, No. 9 Pleasure Ridge Park and No. 11 Apollo are considered strong threats to be playing for the title Saturday night.
Pitching, as always, will be a major factor in determining the 71st state champ. That's why a lot of people single out St. Xavier as the team to beat.
The Tigers have three Division I pitchers in Matt Spalding and Ian Tompkins, who are both headed to Western Kentucky, and Ryan Loenhert, who's bound for Kentucky. They have a few other strong arms to go with that trio.
But St. Xavier isn't puffing out its chest.
Jefferson said his players feel "very fortunate" to have escaped the highly competitive 7th Region, and he feels "very fortunate to be on the opposite side of the bracket as Lexington Catholic."
Brooks, however, tossed the ball back to Jefferson.
"St. X is definitely a favorite with its pitching staff," he said.
Lexington Catholic has an ace of its own in UK signee Taylor Martin, who helped pitch the Knights to the 2009 state title. The senior righthander is unbeaten this year.
Lawrence County has one of the winningest pitchers in state history in UK signee Chandler Shepherd, who is 12-0 this spring and has 40 career victories.
Warren East has fireballer Mark Biggs, a Louisville signee and eighth-round draft pick of the Toronto Blue Jays.
PRP has a dominant pitcher in Cody Angus, who'll play ball at Wabash Valley, a junior college in Illinois.
While some coaches may waver on when to use their top guns, there's no decision to be made when Lexington Catholic and PRP clash in the first round Tuesday night.
Martin will start for the three-time state champ Knights, and Angus for four-time state champ PRP.
"We like the matchup because there's no question whether should we hold Cody or throw him," PRP Coach Bill Miller said. "We'll put our best cards on the table and see what happens."
Brooks has the same philosophy. "It's almost better to play a PRP-type team because you don't second-guess your pitching choice. We've both got to throw our aces."
Lawrence County Coach Travis Feltner said he has no decision to make, either. He'll throw Shepherd against Newport Central Catholic.
Shepherd pitched well in the state tournament as a freshman and sophomore. In 2008 he threw a complete-game shutout, with eight strikeouts, against Greenup County. In 2009 he went nine innings and had 10 strikeouts but got no decision when Lawrence County lost to Owensboro 3-2 in 10 innings.
Central Hardin returns almost its entire lineup from last year when it lost to Greenup County 5-2 in the first round. The Bruins proved themselves this regular season by beating St. X and PRP.
"I like to think we have a quality team," Coach Todd Thompson said. "We take a lot of pride in our defense, and in all aspects of the game."
Central Hardin's top pitchers are Dylan Shoffner (Olney Central, Ill.) and Austin Walters (Southeastern, Ill.). "They both rely on hitting spots because they're not going to blow it past anybody," Thompson said.
Clark County Coach Larry Allison, whose Cardinals face Central Hardin in the opening round, said his scouting report confirms that "they're a very solid, outstanding team.
"But baseball's a crazy game. You never know what's going to happen."
That's the same approach Clay County Coach Jason Smith is taking as his team gets ready to take on St. X.
"This is one of those games we'll go into with a nothing-to-lose attitude," Smith said.
Apollo Coach Bob Mantooth, who won his 800th game a few weeks ago, has led the Eagles to the state semifinals four times, including 2003, '07 and '08.
Dalton West and Luke Daugherty, who started as freshmen on that '08 final four team, hope to push Apollo over the hump and into the title game this time around.
Mercer County, North Oldham and Union County won region titles for the first time.
But Mercer County, led by stars Clay Cinnamon and Mathew Honchel, won't enter with a "just-happy-to-be-here" attitude.
"We're going in with the mindset of trying to win it," Coach Jeremy Shope said. "These guys really believe it can be done."