Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

May 23, 2014

16th Region baseball tournament: Wide-open field in region

GRAYSON — Boyd County was the last team West Carter coach Tim Johnson wanted to face on Monday, but then again, as Rowan County coach Jason Davis pointed out, there was nary a dream draw.

Coaches and athletic directors convened at East Carter High School on Friday afternoon to determine matchups for the 16th Region Tournament.

First pitch is set for Monday at 10 a.m. Rowan County and Lewis County will meet in the first of four opening-round contests on Memorial Day. The semifinals are set for Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. The championship game will be played on Wednesday at 6 p.m. All games will be held at East Carter’s J.P. Kouns Field.

Ashland coach Jeff Wilcox, who has guided the Tomcats to back-to-back region titles, said any given team can pull out a win on Day 1.

“I think all the first-round games will be good games,” Wilcox said. “There are several that could beat you on that first day.”

West Carter (20-7) already beat Boyd County, but there’s good reason to be wary of the 64th District runner-up, said Johnson.

“Nobody in this room wanted to draw Boyd today,” Johnson said. “They’re an excellent ball team, with excellent pitching.”

The Comets crashed the region scene early this season. A 5-2 win over the Lions on March 27 made a hard-hitting impact.

Also included on their resume are two wins over Lewis County, two defeats of East Carter, a toppling of Rowan County and the Comets’ first 62nd District title since 1991.

West Carter’s 6-foot-8 freshman ace Ben Jordan will foot the rubber against Boyd County (19-15) on Monday at about 12:30 p.m.

“We’re going to bring our No. 1 pitcher and go at it for a win,” Johnson said. “Against Boyd County, it’s just about being able to hit the ball. (Jordan) will keep the run total very low.”

Jordan didn’t pitch in the teams’ first meeting.

Davis and the Vikings (19-11) haven’t faced Lewis County since May 18, 2013. Lions ace Sammy Holder pitched just a “couple innings” of that contest, recalled Davis.

Holder will likely take the ball for the Lions (16-14) on Monday against either Tyler Thacker or Cam Planck. Davis is undecided.

“I’m not too sure who is our best right now,” Davis said. “Both are pitching pretty well.”

Rowan County center fielder Justin Graham highlights the highest-scoring offense (237 total runs) in the region.

“I love my team right now,” Davis said of the 61st District champions. “We know Sammy’s a competitor on the mound. You have to jump on his fastball early. Once he gets to his off-speed stuff, that’s when he can be a problem.”

Lewis County will face former head coach Keith Prater, who is now an assistant to Davis.

Greenup County (21-15) prevailed over the Lions in the 63rd District championship on Thursday.

The Musketeers have won 11 of their last 12 games. Their only loss came against East Carter, a convincing 7-1 decision.

East Carter, though, suffered a season-ending shocker of a loss at the hands of Morgan County in the opening round of the 62nd District. Greenup County’s opponent on Monday? Morgan County.

Musketeers coach Greg Logan chalked up the strange chain of events to it being “high school baseball.”

“(East) beat us pretty easy, so it’s like, well, how can that happen?” Logan said. “Well, it’s high school baseball. We just know that we’ve gotta play Monday. Morgan has some very good, athletic kids.”

On Friday, Logan wasn’t yet sure if he’d pencil freshman Tristan Downing onto the lineup card as the pitcher.

“We’ll probably change our mind about 20 times from Friday to Monday,” Logan said.

Ethan Coldiron fired a seven-inning no-hitter against the Cougars on March 22, but as Logan reminded, that “was very, very early.”

“You see what they did to East, and then they had West Carter down until the last inning,” Logan said.

Morgan County (11-18) will go with junior starting pitcher Joey Stamper.

Logan was pleased with the 5:30 p.m., last-game-of-the-day positioning.

“Maybe the good Lord is watching over us. Getting 5:30 instead of 10 (a.m.) gives us 7 1-2 hours of more healing time,” Logan said, referencing leading hitter J.T. Boggs’s recovery from knee surgery. He had one at-bat against Lewis County.

Jared Hunt and Christian Wireman have also battled injuries.

Ashland surged past Greenup County in last year’s region final.

The Tomcats (22-8) blitzed Bath County, 13-1, on May 2. The Wildcats come into the region tournament with the worst record, at 9-21. The two teams kick off the second session on Monday at 3 p.m.

Pete Mullins pitched a complete game in the regular-season clash.

Wilcox has repeatedly labeled pitching as the Tomcats’ strong suit all season, and the numbers prove it.

Ashland has relented just 94 runs in 30 games (3.1 RPG).

“Overall, you have to have more than one pitcher to win it,” said the KHSAA Hall-of-Fame coach.

Wilcox is deep in the arms department, starting with right-handers Evan Cox and Cam Fritz. Mullins, Jared Slone, Austin Kelley and Robert Griffith have all seen significant time on the mound as well.

Wilcox is hopeful his team’s experience bodes well.

For Johnson and West Carter, this is all a brand-new event. The Comets have a handful of talented freshmen and eighth-graders.

Boyd County coach Brandon Ramsey hasn’t settled on a pitcher to counter Jordan. The Lions’ top two starting arms are Billy McCoy and Dylan Grimm.

“It’s going to be a bigger stage than we’re used to,” Johnson said. “But the good thing is, these guys have played a lot of championship games in travel ball. Hopefully we can hold it together the first couple innings and get our nerves settled.”

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