Central Hardin celebrated its first state title in any boys' sport in the school's 20-year history after winning the Kentucky National Insurance/KHSAA State Baseball Tournament Saturday night.
The No. 4 Bruins did it in jaw-dropping style, mercy-ruling Mercer County 21-2 in five innings in front of a record finals crowd of 5,097 at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
Central Hardin scored seven runs in the second inning and 14 in the fourth to vanquish the Titans.
"Twenty-one to two. Wow," Mercer County Coach Jeremy Shope said. "We just ran into a buzz saw. They flat lit up the scoreboard and hit the ball all over the park. It was one of those nights they found the barrel. Hats off to 'em."
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Central Hardin set a title-game record with its 19-run margin of victory, eclipsing St. Xavier's 18-1 rout of Richmond Madison in 1945. It tied the record for most runs in the finals, set by Bardstown St. Joe, which beat Jenkins 21-10 in 1953.
"We came out swinging the sticks," said Bruins lead-off hitter Levi McCamish. "We put the hammer down early and just kept it going."
McCamish was one of five Central Hardin players to have at least two hits in a 16-hit attack that included two home runs (one a grand slam) and four doubles.
The Bruins have been hit-happy all spring, boasting a .405 team batting average. But nobody expected this kind of offensive explosion in a championship game.
"We've had moments like this during the season, but 21 runs and 16 hits in a big stadium like this was our best performance on the year," said senior catcher Russ Morse.
Morse had a homer, double and three RBI in the onslaught. Sophomore shortstop Troy Squires had three hits and three runs and drove in three.
Central Hardin Coach Todd Thompson, who guided his team to the state tournament for the second year in a row, knows what it's like to be on the other end of a lopsided finals. He was a senior on the Elizabethtown team that lost to Lafayette 14-2 in the 1992 championship game.
He was surprised that his Bruins had such an easy time against Mercer County, but not by the way they swung the bats. "We've done it all year, and we didn't let up tonight," he said.
Thompson seemed like the calmest guy in Whitaker Bank Ballpark after the victory. He let his players do the whooping and hollering.
"I didn't swing the bat all year. I didn't throw one ball, and I didn't field the ball," he said. "It's about these boys; it's not about me."
Central Hardin senior Austin Walters was the tournament MVP. He pitched the Bruins to victories over Clark County and No. 2 St. Xavier.
He also made a memorable cameo in the finals. The Bruins were in the midst of their 14-run inning when Walters was inserted as a pinch hitter with the bases loaded. He promptly smacked the ball into the left-field bleachers.
"He jacked it out of here; he got all of it," said an appreciative McCamish.
Central Hardin won 17 of their last 18 games to finish 36-4.
For Mercer County, it was a downer of a finish to what had been a fabulous week.
The unranked Titans beat Boyd County and North Oldham to reach the semifinals against four-time state champ Pleasure Ridge Park.
Mercer County staged a miracle seventh-inning rally to beat PRP 5-4 in a game that didn't end until 12:43 a.m. Saturday.
A few days earlier, the Titans' game against Boyd County didn't end until after midnight.
But Mercer County's mojo finally ran out. It had five costly errors against Central Hardin, and 17 of the 21 runs it gave up were unearned.
Shope said his team was "worn out" coming into the finals, especially its pitching staff, "but I told them to go out, have fun and compete.
"I couldn't be prouder of them for what they did this season."
All-tournament team: Austin Walters (MVP), Dylan Shoffner and Russ Morse of Central Hardin; Colin Buckner, Addam Gooch and Matthew Honchel of Mercer County; Cody Angus and Matt Mattingly of PRP; Matt Spalding and Shaun Johnston of St. Xavier.
Kentucky National Insurance scholarship winners: Tanner Gilbert of Clay County, Sean Murphy of Newport Central Catholic, Matt Nichols of Central Hardin and Anthony Patterson of Mercer County.
Forcht Group of Kentucky Sportsmanship Award: Clay Cinnamon of Mercer County.