Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

March 26, 2014

64th District Baseball Preview: Can Tomcats turn rare triple play?

Ashland vying for 64th repeat, region 3-peat; Boyd not fading

ASHLAND — Over the past decade, either Boyd County or Ashland winning the 64th District baseball tournament has been a certainty on the level of death, taxes and early-season games wiped out by poor weather or field conditions.

The two district heavyweights have combined to win the last 10 district titles, and every crown under the district’s current composition.

Fairview isn’t conceding the extension of that streak as an inevitability, but the defending district champion Tomcats expect a fight on their hands from at least the Lions to keep their laurels come postseason.

“With a new coach, (the Eagles) are probably excited about their season,” Ashland coach Jeff Wilcox said. “This year you have to put Boyd and Ashland at the top, I guess, of the district. We’ve had so many battles in the last several years, it could go either way.”

The Tomcats edged the Lions 2-0 in last year’s championship game to end Boyd County’s seven-season reign as district titlist.

Ashland won all three of the teams’ meetings last year, two of them by one run. Over the past 10 seasons, Boyd County leads the series between the teams, 17-16, with 15 of those games decided by one cross of the dish.

Ashland won its second consecutive 16th Region title last season. The Lions gave the Tomcats a run for their money in the district, but finished just 19-17 and lost to Bath County in the region quarterfinals.

“Last year was a little bit of a disappointment,” Boyd County coach Brandon Ramsey said. “We had some high expectations, and we really didn’t live up to it.”

The Lions have started this season 2-4 against a tough early-season slate, but they expect that schedule to pay off.

“We return a lot of players. We’ve got some experience,” Ramsey said. “We think we’ve got a good team, and we’ve got some good kids that are starting to contribute, and hopefully we’ll be solid once we get into the swing of it a little bit.”

Fairview sits 1-2 in the early going, but the Eagles expect to have something to say about who wins the district, too.

“I think we got a really good chance,” first-year coach Matt Thompson said. “We gotta play the best we can play, but I think we’ve got a really good chance to beat both (Boyd County and Ashland), really.”

Ashland is replacing its top two pitchers in Logan Salow, who is pitching as a freshman at Kentucky, and Evan Yongue, who went to play football at Morehead State.

Senior Evan Cox will lead the rotation this season, with seniors Cameron Fritz, Aaron Elam and Robert Griffith — a transfer from Louisville — also in the mix. Griffith has mononucleosis and Elam is battling tendinitis, Wilcox said.

Fritz is the starting catcher, with Pete Mullins going behind the dish when Fritz pitches.

The Tomcats, 1-0 after opening with a win against Johnson Central on Monday, return their entire starting infield. Elam anchors first base, Jared Slone mans second, Cox and Austin Kelley will platoon at shortstop, and Cody Conley is at third.

“We’ve got great experience in the infield,” Wilcox said. “We feel pretty confident there.”

The outfield is a different story, with new faces patrolling the grass. Wilcox figures to use Kelley, senior M.J. Wood and junior Trent Woods in left, junior Casey Clark in center and senior Matt Vincent in right.

Offensively, Ashland expects to be improved from the lineup that averaged 5.9 runs an outing last season, Wilcox said.

”We’re gonna miss some key players from the last couple years,” he said. “But once the new guys get some experience, I feel like from top to bottom we could be pretty good hitting-wise.”

The Lions bring back ace Billy McCoy, who posted a 1.28 earned run average and fanned 57 hitters in 60 innings, but lost significant pitching depth. Ramsey still feels good about his staff’s potential.

“We’ve got some young guys that are coming up that we have some expectations for,” Ramsey said. “We just have to get some experience on the mound and then try to figure out what they do well.”

Junior Jacob Barnwell, an Ohio State verbal commit, will anchor the Lions’ batting order in the No. 3 slot and is solid defensively at catcher.

Boyd County returns nearly its entire offensive lineup after putting up 6.3 runs a night last year. Barnwell hit .413 with a 1.149 on-base plus slugging percentage, Dylan Grimm batted .380 with 41 runs and a .922 OPS, and McCoy batted .333.

“We had a good offensive team last year and we think we’ll continue to be that this year,” Ramsey said. “Actually, I’m hoping that we end up a little bit better than we (were) last year with some guys getting stronger and some of the younger kids starting to come on a little bit.”

Ramsey called his defense a team strength.

“We’ve got four solid defenders (in the outfield and) a lot more depth as far as the infield this year, so I think it’s definitely gonna be a strong suit of ours,” he said.

In Westwood, Thompson, who takes over for his father, Terry, has projected enthusiasm about his Fairview program coming into the season.

“I know our record doesn’t show nearly as good as we are,” he said. “I feel, as well as my other coaches, we all feel that we haven’t been outplayed yet, we’ve just beat ourselves. I think that’s something we can handle early, but if it keeps happening, then we’ll have problems.”

Senior pitchers Taylor Freeman and Austin Harris figure to get the ball in big games, but Thompson said juniors Justin Castle and Kyle Stormes will be called upon for innings.

Senior third baseman Caleb Porter, senior first baseman Tanner Young and junior second baseman Blake Smith drew mention as key infield performers.

Sophomore outfielder Alex Roy “has got all the ability in the world,” Thompson said. Stormes will patrol left field and senior Cameron Whitlock is getting a look in right.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that could play a lot of different positions,” Thompson said. “It’s gonna be tough to make a lineup up — in a good way, though.”

Roy, Stormes and sophomore Josh Russell will have to key the Eagles’ batting order.

“If those three don’t produce, it’s looking like right now it’ll be kind of hard for us to compete,” Thompson said. “But we have a really solid lineup; it’s just a matter of when we’re gonna come around and start hitting. It’s still early, so I’m not panicking, by no means.”

Rose Hill Christian has five games scheduled, according to the KHSAA website, and stands 0-2 thus far. Attempts to contact its program for comment were unsuccessful before press time. The Royals did not participate in last season’s district tournament.

ZACK KLEMME can be

reached at zklemme@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2658.

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