OLIVE HILL —
East Carter’s Conner Staton hasn’t lost a 62nd District in his high school career. As a senior, he wasn’t going to let that change.
Staton pitched a complete game — one that was interrupted by an hour and 40-minute rain delay — to lead East Carter over Morgan County, 5-1, in the 62nd District championship on Tuesday at West Carter High School.
After play was halted because of lightning, East Carter coach Jeremiah Shearer originally was going to take Staton out of the game. But the senior found a way to talk his coach into letting him back on the mound.
“I was thinking while I was out there warming up (after the weather delay) that it was my senior year and I want to try and come out there and finish this game,” Staton said. “I told him my arm was feeling fine, but at first he told me no. He then brought me back in and asked me how my arm was feeling and I told him it was better than before we started and he said he was going to put me back in.
“It gave me butterflies because I knew I had a chance go out and finish the game.”
Staton not only finished the game, but he shut the door on Morgan County. In the final three innings after the delay, the senior allowed no hits and struck out four.
Overall, he allowed just two hits and struck out eight to pick up the win.
“We were leaning another way but Conner talked me out of it,” Shearer said. “I told him there are not a whole lot of pitchers I would have left out there, but he’s a competitor and you could see on his face that he had it.”
East Carter took an early 1-0 lead but was finding itself losing momentum heading into the fourth.
After hitting a double off the left-field fence, Morgan County’s Zach Bartley found himself at third. Staton then threw a wild pitch that allowed Bartley to score and tie the game up at 1-1.
The Cougars put a scare in East Carter with runners on first and third with two outs, as Larrin Collins hit a line drive to deep center field.
But before it could plate the two runs, center fielder Cole Brammer made a spectacular diving catch that saved East Carter from falling behind 3-1.
“That was the turning point in the game,” Shearer said. “He saved two runs, and instead of going down 3-1 in the rain delay, we’re tied at 1-1.”
In the bottom of the fourth, with two on and two out, lightning struck to prompt the lengthy delay.
After the delay, Morgan County coach Mark Easterling also decided to let Collins, the Cougars’ starter, back on the mound.
Brammer doubled to right field off Collins on a ball that was hard to handle because of the wet grass. It plated a pair of runs.
“That grass was a little wet and they put the ball in play and it gets by our outfielder,” Easterling said. “It’s a big momentum break right there in the game. East Carter is a good, solid team and they took advantage of situations we didn’t.”
East Carter added two more runs in the fifth, one on a run-scoring double by Cody McDavid and another by a Cole Boggs single up the middle.
After sitting around for almost two hours, the Raiders picked up five hits and four runs when they were able to take the field again. That’s pretty good if you ask Shearer.
“We talked about putting the pressure on Morgan County,” Shearer said. “We wanted to try and hit some balls on the ground and have them make some plays, and I thought we did that in the later innings and woke the bats up.”
The win marked the sixth straight 62nd District title for East Carter (17-16) and the 15th in the past 17 seasons. It will also be the Raiders’ 17th straight trip to the 16th Region Tournament.
Said Staton: “I wasn’t going to be the first one in six years to lose. That wasn’t going to happen. I wanted to win this for my team and my school.”
Morgan County (18-8) will also move on to the 16th Region Tournament, held at Ashland, starting on Monday.
MORGAN CO. 000 100 0 — 1 2 2
EAST CARTER 001 220 X — 5 8 0
Collins, Kelsey (5) and Stamper. Staton and Wells. W — Staton. L — Collins. 2B — Bartley (M), McDavid (E), Brammer (E).
Tanner Tackett (West Carter); Ryan Hanson (Morgan County); Larrin Collins (Morgan County); Zach Bartley (Morgan County); Conner Staton (East Carter); Cole Brammer (East Carter); Jesse James (East Carter); Derek Keller (East Carter).