Lexington Catholic's lofty perch in the state baseball ratings — currently No. 2 after spending some time at No. 1 — hasn't changed the Knights' view of their ultimate goal.
"We want to prepare ourselves the best we can to make a run in the district and region and hopefully the state," Coach Taylor Brooks said. "That's why we don't have any cupcakes on our schedule."
District rival Paul Laurence Dunbar provided the latest test for Lexington Catholic on Wednesday night. The host Knights prevailed 8-3 in a rainy game that was tighter than the final score.
The victory, Lexington Catholic's 20th of the season, came in the midst of a murderer's-row schedule.
The Knights beat No. 16 Tates Creek last week, lost a pair of games to four-time defending Tennessee state champ Farragut over the weekend, and edged No. 7 Lafayette on Tuesday night.
After beating Dunbar, Lexington Catholic can look forward to the Louisville Invitational Tournament where it will face defending state champ and No. 6 Central Hardin, No. 8 Eastern and No. 12 West Jessamine this weekend. The Knights then get a couple days' rest before taking on No. 10 Madison Central on Tuesday.
Lexington Catholic junior third baseman Evan Fraliex, who had a hit, an RBI and two runs against Dunbar, said the tough schedule is beneficial.
"It motivates us through the season," he said. "We know we can't take a day off, even in practice. We've gotta stay focused day in, day out."
Brooks thought his players showed that focus against Dunbar. "Even after we got an early lead, the guys kept competing every inning, kept trying to tack on more runs."
Robert Waller's bases-loaded smash off the center-field fence gave the Knights a 2-1 lead in the second.
They got two more runs in the third. Will Hurt singled, stole second and scored on Fraliex's single. Trey Miller followed with a hit, and Fraliex came home on an error.
Nick Chafin, Corey Wells and Hurt had the big hits in the fourth as Lexington Catholic stretched its lead to 6-1.
Senior right-hander Zach Haynes, who has signed with Indiana, worked five solid innings for Lexington Catholic. He gave up four hits, two walks and struck out six.
Sophomore Griffin Neuer started the sixth, but surrendered hits to Tyler Cox, Connor Huskey, Zach Herrin and Grant Herald as Dunbar trimmed the deficit to 6-3.
Brooks lifted Neuer and brought in 6-foot-7 senior left-hander Patrick Keller to halt the Bulldogs' comeback.
Keller walked the first batter he faced to load the bases, but then got a strikeout and line-out to end the threat.
"I was just thinking, minimize the damage," said Keller, who revels in tight situations. "It gets your blood going so you're feeling good out there."
After the Knights added two insurance runs, Keller closed it with a perfect seventh, including two more K's.
"Awesome," Brooks said of Keller's clutch performance. "He's a senior and that's why we put him out there. We know we can trust him."
Just like Brooks trusts that Lexington Catholic's brutal schedule is getting it ready for the post-season.
Paul Dunbar 001 002 0 — 3 6 2
Lexington Catholic 022 202 x — 8 10 1
Stephen Shunk, Tyler Cox (4) and Connor Huskey. Zach Haynes, Griffin Neuer (6), Patrick Keller (6) and Tyler Jackson. W--Herrin. L--Shunk. 2B--Grant Herald (PD), Nick Chafin (LC).
Records: Dunbar 11-11; Lexington Catholic 20-5