VERSAILLES — Woodford County cracked the top 25 state baseball ratings in the first month of the season even though the Yellowjackets were missing Clinton Hollon, who's rated the top junior pitcher in the nation by ESPN and MaxPreps.
So when Hollon, who said he had to straighten out an academic mix-up before he could take the mound, finally joined the team a few weeks ago, it made Woodford County that much better.
The Jackets, No. 13 in the latest coaches' poll, and Hollon gave a glimpse of their late-season strength with a 4-3 victory over No. 23 Tates Creek on Wednesday.
In only his third start of the spring, Hollon blanked the Commodores on three hits through five innings.
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After sitting through a long at-bat by Woodford County in the bottom of the fifth when the hosts scored three runs, Hollon said he lost his rhythm. He hit a batter, walked another and gave up a pair of singles as Tates Creek rallied for three runs.
But Hollon stranded the tying run at third with an inning-ending strikeout.
Sophomore Eli Boggess worked a perfect seventh to get the save for the Jackets.
In his longest appearance of the season, Hollon struck out seven, walked one and gave up five singles.
"We were able to fight and scratch and win some pretty good games without (Hollon)," Coach Jeff Parrett said. "And now being able to add him to the mix makes us that much better. We're glad to have him back."
Hollon, who has committed to Kentucky, went 7-1 last year with an 0.50 earned run average. He had 91 strikeouts and 20 walks in 57 innings.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder had an impressive summer in national showcases with a 96-mph fastball, and he hit that mark again a couple weeks ago in a game against Henry Clay that was ultimately rained out.
Hollon's not surprised he could step in and pitch well after missing the first month of the season. He did a lot of bullpen work and long tossing to strengthen his arm.
After his 90-pitch effort on Wednesday, he was pleased. "It's still like the beginning of my season, but I feel good. I'm not too tired or winded."
With Hollon added to an already strong pitching staff that includes Logan Parrett (the coach's son), J.T. O'Reel and Boggess, the Jackets could make noise in the post-season.
They got just enough offense against two of Tates Creek's best pitchers, Nick Richmond and Aaron Mitchell. Corey Couch led off the second with a double and eventually scored on John Clay Curtis' fielder's choice to make it 1-0 in the second.
Woodford County added three runs in the fifth, thanks in part to two Commodore errors. The Jackets also got a two-out, two-run pinch-hit single from Brandon Varble, followed by Justin Brown's RBI infield hit.
Tates Creek got three runs in the sixth, with Mitch Watson, Javon Shelby and Austin Younce collecting the RBI.
The Jackets kept their poise, though, and held on, giving them a 10-0 record in one-run games this season.
What does it say about Woodford County that it is perfect in nail-biters?
"It says we're a veteran- type team," Parrett said. "That experience keeps you from panicking. We try not to play with expectations, but with performance and execution.
"And you get lucky sometimes, too," he added with a laugh.
Tates Creek 000 003 0—3 5 3
Woodford County 010 030 x—4 8 0
Nick Richmond, Aaron Mitchell (4), Caleb Johnson (5) and Nathan Black, Max Sweet (6). W—Hollon. L—Mitchell. 2B—Corey Couch (WC).
Records—Tates Creek 15-13; Woodford County 23-6.