Mercer County baseball coach Jeremy Shope probably had to ice down his right shoulder after the Titans beat Prestonsburg 6-2 in the quarterfinals of the Forcht Bank/KHSAA State Tournament before 2,670 fans at Whitaker Bank Ballpark Wednesday night.
Shope spent a lot of his time in the third-base coaching box wind-milling his runners around the bases.
How aggressive were the Titans?
Chris Goodman drew a two-out walk in the fourth and promptly stole second as the catcher's throw sailed into center field. Goodman raced to third, and when the Prestonsburg fielder bobbled the ball, Shope waved Goodman safely home.
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"It makes a coach look good when a guy has speed like that," Shope said.
That was just one example of the how the Titans had it in high gear the whole game.
"We like to run, especially me, Layne (Peavler) and Russell (Sims)," Goodman said. "Any time we get an opportunity to steal a base, we're glad to do it.
"Sometimes the other team might rush a throw, and you might get more than you attempted. Taking a chance, you might get lucky every once in a while."
"We've got good runners and we like to be aggressive," he said. "We want to make the catcher and everybody else prove themselves."
Shope knew that Prestonsburg likes to play that way, too, so he wanted to get the jump on the Blackcats.
"In this tournament sometimes you have to try to put a little pressure on the other team. Sometimes you're safe, sometimes you're out."
While his teammates were whirling around the bases, Mercer County's Jon Banks was steady on the mound.
The senior right-hander pitched five shutout innings. He gave up just one hit and struck out four.
It was a performance similar to that of the Titans' J.T. Long, who blanked Apollo on Monday.
"They're not gonna light up the (radar) gun, but they're pitchers," Shope said. "Jon did a great job working ahead of the hitters, and working at the knees."
Mercer County got a run in the first on Peavler's double and Sims' RBI single. The Titans got an unearned run in the third when Peavler reached on an error and scored on Banks' hit. Goodman then legged out his run in the fourth.
Mercer County added three runs in the fifth, again using aggressive base running to force the action. After loading the bases with one out, Curry Brown's sacrifice fly drove in Peavler, Sims scored on a wild pitch, and Trevor Tate's single drove in pinch-runner Mason Thompson.
Prestonsburg got two runs off reliever Logan Horn in the sixth on RBI hits by Jarin Hall and Trey Stapleton.
But it was too little, too late for the Blackcats.
This was Prestonsburg's first state tournament appearance since it won the title in 1948, so Coach Shane Simpkins was proud of this year's team.
"This senior group has been big," he said. "Hopefully our younger guys get a taste of this and want to get back."
Simpkins said he talked with Shope a couple days ago "and I told him I want my program to be where his is."
Mercer County is in the semifinals. Shope said one reason for that is his players' attitude.
"They're playing relaxed and with confidence, and have been for two weeks now. It's amazing what experience does, having been here before, knowing what to expect.
"This is a just a special group that likes to win baseball games."
Mercer County 6, Prestonsburg 2
Prestonsburg 000 000 0 —2 4 3
Mercer County 101 130 X—6 7 1
Jarin Hall, Adam Griffith (5), Cody Chaffin (6) and Dalton Shepherd. Jon Banks, Logan Horn (6), Jackson Stoeckinger (7) and Curry Brown. 2B—Layne Peavler (MC), Griffith (P).
Records —Mercer Co. 29-9; Prestonsburg 26-15
Henderson County 3, Collins 0
A power outage interrupted the game for more than an hour, but Henderson County didn’t let that inconvenience affect them as they beat Collins 3-0 to advance to the semifinals for the second year in a row.
A transformer blew and the lights went out at Whitaker Bank Ballpark at 8:50 p.m., with two outs in the top of the first inning.
Power was restored at 9:50, play resumed at 10:05, and Henderson County’s bats came alive in the bottom of the fourth.
Ryan Ward doubled with one out, Colin Hudson blooped a hit to right, and Quinn Thomas drove in Ward with a single. Hudson scored on Daniel Steiner’s ground-out to give Henderson County a 2-0 lead.
That was all Colonels’ pitcher Sam Higgs needed. The senior right-hander, who won two games in last year’s state tournament, worked six innings, gave up four hits and had nine strikeouts.
Colton Jones pitched the seventh to seal it.
Collins threatened in the fifth when David Decker hit a one-out triple. But when Decker tried to score on a grounder to short, Ethan Meeler threw him out at the plate. Higgs got the third out on an infield pop-up.
The game ended 10 minutes before midnight.
Collins 000 000 0 -- 0 4 2
Henderson County 000 210 x -- 3 7 2
Austin Henry, Buddy Johnson (5) and Zach Wiley. Sam Higgs, Colton Jones (7) and Andrew Richmond. 2B--Ryan Ward (HC), Colton Jones (HC). 3B--David Decker (C).
Records--Collins 33-7 Henderson Co. 31-8
Mercer Co. 6, Prestonsburg 2
Henderson Co. 3, Collins 0
6 p.m. — Pleasure Ridge Park vs. St. Xavier
8:30 p.m. — Harrison Co. vs. Central Hardin