The 2017-18 Kentucky high school sports season ended on a fielder's choice last Saturday as St. Xavier fended off Highlands for the state baseball championship. On the surface, it was a ho-hum finale to the year, as St. X was presumed champion before the state tournament got underway.
But, it was not alone; most of last season's titlists were favored to win it all well before their seasons began. Inevitability has quite a grip on Kentucky's prep landscape, but that doesn't mean the journey can't bare thrilling moments and memories.
With some help from fans on Twitter, here's a sampling of moments that left fans of Kentucky high school sports fans in awe — regardless of the season's final outcome.
- Cooper Robb's contested, go-ahead three-pointer in the final seconds of No. 1 Scott County's win versus No. 3 Trinity in the first round of the boys' Sweet Sixteen was the kind of shot a matchup of its caliber deserved. It was the first of two incredible games on the tournament's first day; later that night Pikeville upset John Hardin after three overtimes in one of the longest games played in tournament history. Former Herald-Leader sportswriter Mike Fields called the game, which featured multiple buzzer-beaters and heroic moments, one of the best ever played in the event's history. Neither team advanced to win it all — that was Covington Catholic's cross to bear — but they left us with some awesome memories.
- There are upsets, and then there's what Ballard Memorial's softball team did to McCracken County earlier this month. The Bombers — 12-11 in the regular season, including two mercy-rule decisions against McCracken — handed the top-10 Mustangs their first ever loss in 1st Region play when they beat them, 3-2, in the semifinals of the region tournament. Stunners of that magnitude are rare, and especially on Kentucky softball fields. Bombers Coach Danny Leidecker put it best following his team's win: "I told my girls, 10 years from now when you look back on the regionals nobody's gonna know who won the regional tournament. But they're always gonna remember who was the first one to beat McCracken. They did the unthinkable."
- Some moments could never be replicated at levels of play beyond high school. Such was the case for Danville's Nathan Hazlett in the fall: he played all 80 minutes in the Admirals 3-2 soccer loss at Boyle County before on the same day joining the football team, playing the Rebels at home, at halftime. Hazlett eventually kicked the winning field goal in the final seconds of a 10-7 victory — you won't ever see Cristiano Ronaldo do that.
- Mercer County, a Class 3A school in football terms, left its mark on high school basketball over the last year. It became the first school to produce a Mr. and Miss Basketball winner in the same season — Trevon Faulkner and Seygan Robins — and the girls won their second straight state championship with an all-time beatdown in the finals. The girls' program even sent a player — Lexy Lake — to the men's Final Four to compete in a national three-point shootout after a relentless social-media campaign.
- D'mauriae VanCleave emerged as the 2017 Mr. Football winner after starring in all phases of play for undefeated Danville, besting several bigger names at bigger schools. Mr. Do-It-All didn't have the biggest frame at 5-foot-7, but he had one of the biggest hearts.
- One of the sweetest things that happened this season was far from the field of play — Marshall County's track team received statewide attention after an Olive Garden in Tennessee surprised it with a free meal.
- The final two games Lexington Catholic and Lexington Christian played against one another in boys' basketball were two of the finest I've seen at this level. The first saw Catholic's star senior, Zan Payne, go down with a season-ending knee injury in the waning seconds of regulation, before Patrick Geoghegan stepped off the bench for the first time and calmly hit two free throws to force overtime, in which Catholic prevailed. The second, played 11 days later, was another back-and-forth classic, this time in the 43rd District semifinals. It appeared to be Catholic's to win again before an interception and an and-one finish at the rim by Carter Hendricksen helped LCA advance.
- A 13-inning, four-hour epic between Scott County and Warren East didn't determine the state softball champion, but it vaulted the Cardinals into the championship round and made it easier for them to deal with the Raiders the second time around in the true finals. The last game was forgettable, but the former will be remembered as one of the best in tournament history.
- Logan Dykes — an All-State soccer player coming off a broken leg in his final season — earned a place in Kentucky basketball lore after coming up with a steal and hitting a buzzer-beating layup to send Southwestern to the Sweet Sixteen for the second time in school history.
- A few days earlier Morgan Hopson hit her first shot of the game — a contested three-pointer from the corner — in overtime to send Johnson Central's girls to the 15th Region finals, which they went on to win.
- Rook Ellington will become a household name at the University of Kentucky but he's already one out in western Kentucky. The speedy outfielder hit a walk-off double to knock St. Xavier from the unbeaten ranks during the regular season (the Tigers had started 23-0).
- Remember Bowling Green's girls' basketball team winning the 4th Region championship after trailing by 13 points with 4:57 to play? The Purples went on a 22-1 run to end the game; that's crazy!
- Fairdale in one of its final home games trailed Valley by 24 points entering the fourth quarter but scored 42 points in the period to force overtime and 10 points in the extra period to win, 100-98; that might be crazier!
- Two new high schools opened — Floyd Central in Floyd County and Frederick Douglass in Lexington — and the latter made quite an impression in its inaugural football campaign, sweeping the city and advancing to the third round of the playoffs. The Broncos' debut was chronicled in an award-winning documentary, OPENING DRIVE, produced by the Herald-Leader's Alex Slitz and Caitlyn Stroh.
- How about Edie Meyer nailing decisive penalty kicks in back-to-back games to help West Jessamine win its second straight girls' soccer title?
- Remember St. X winning its 30th (!!!) straight boys' swimming championship? I bet they will as they're watching their sons win the 60th consecutive trophy.
- Want some goosebumps? Go back to February and revisit the moment Kristian Shouse, a Christian County student with autism, entered one of the Colonels' basketball games and drilled her first shot attempt.
This a small sampling of cool stuff that happened during the KHSAA season; there are hundreds of awesome moments that went unheralded and exist only in the memories of those who were there. Most of them required just a small fee to witness it in person.
Thinking twice about attending some events in 2018-19? Don't. You might miss something amazing.