Jason Davis remembered it like it happened Monday.
Rowan County’s baseball coach talked about last year’s 1-0 loss to Ashland in the 16th Region semifinals before Tuesday’s game against Ashland. A 4-3, walk-off win at Don Hardin Field gave Davis something to smile about.
Sophomore left fielder Devin Helvey singled to right off Ashland pitcher Cam Fritz, and senior Hayden Pratt, who ran for catcher Blake Barhorst, crashed into Ashland catcher Pete Mullins and jarred the ball loose.
“I don’t know if my mind’s ever at ease, but I tell you what, that’s a great baseball game right there,” Davis said. “That’s what makes baseball fun right there … I’m just proud of these boys; we had a lot of fun.”
Helvey hit a Fritz fastball. “Outside fastball,” Helvey said. “When he was warming up, he was throwing mostly fastballs.”
Ashland right fielder Matt Vincent’s throw to Mullins beat Pratt to the plate. Pratt called rounding third and heading home a surprise move.
“I saw (Mullins) right in front of the home plate as I was about halfway to home,” Pratt said. “I saw him get the ball and just slide over right in front of me. Fortunately, when I hit him, he dropped the ball, and I had a chance to score.”
Davis said there was never a doubt Pratt was headed home. “Hayden went in to slide, Hayden had the wherewithal that the ball hopped out of (Mullins’) glove, and Hayden made an effort to get to the plate and made sure he touched it,” he said.
Ashland coach Jeff Wilcox said Vincent-to-Mullins was “a great play here at the end. If our catcher holds on to it, I believe (Pratt’s) out. It didn’t go our way.”
Barhorst walked Ashland’s Aaron Elam to open the seventh. After Elam struck out Harlan Carter, Fritz moved to the mound, a move Wilcox made as a precaution.
“Aaron kind of felt something in his arm, so we didn’t want to take any more chances,” Wilcox said. “We brought Cam in; I thought he threw well.”
Fritz struck out shortstop Kyle Gammon before giving up Helvey’s single (Helvey was 0-for-3 before then). While Fritz warmed up, Davis met with his assistants because Mullins replaced Fritz behind the plate, and it was when he decided to let Pratt run.
“We knew they brought in a fresh catcher who hasn’t thrown, hasn’t had a chance to get loose,” Davis said.
And the Vikings thus won their eighth straight game. Davis said it’s the best opening since at least 1998, the last year the Kentucky High School Athletic Association keeps records on its website, and he talked about the 1983 team — which included former major league pitcher Joe Magrane — that won the 16th Region championship.
“We’re playing great, we’re playing great team ball,” Helvey said. “ … I just put the ball in play and let Hayden do what he did.”
Besides Helvey’s and Pratt’s heroics, there were other sequences to savor.
There was Rowan County creating a 2-2 tie in the third inning. That’s when Carter tripled off the Tomcat starter Jared Slone and scored on an Ashland
There was Ashland (5-3) taking a 3-2 lead in the top of the fourth.
With shortstop Austin Kelley on second on a walk and Vincent’s sacrifice bunt, second baseman Evan Cox singled to center. Wilcox sent Kelley home, and Kelley barely beat Viking center fielder Justin Graham’s throw to home.
There was the Vikings evening the score in the bottom of the fourth. Third baseman David Sachs doubled off Elam, went to third on designated hitter Tyler Thacker’s sacrifice bunt and scored on first baseman Tanner Hopson’s fly to center.
There was Rowan County sophomore pitcher Cam Planck’s 11 strikeouts, including four straight over the fifth and sixth. He also retired 10 straight Tomcats from the fourth to the seventh.
“My fastball really was feeling good,” Planck said.
There was Elam’s pitching, too. He relieved Slone in the fourth and struck out five.
Rowan County’s second-inning fielding miscue put Ashland designated hitter M.J. Wood on first. Third baseman Drew O’Bryan’s double to the base of the center field fence moved Wood to third, and Austin Kelley’s grounder to first sent him home.
Ashland took a 2-0 lead in the third when Elam’s double to right scored center fielder Casey Clark.
Rowan County needed just three batters to even up things in their turn in the third — catcher Barhorst’s single, Carter’s triple to right and an error that scored Carter and put Gammon on second.
ASHLAND 011 100 0 — 3 4 2
ROWAN CO. 002 100 1 — 4 5 2
Slone, Elam (4), Fritz (7) and Fritz, Mullins (7); Planck and Barhorst. W-Planck. L-Elam. 3B-Carter (RC). 2B-O’Bryan (A), Elam (A), Sachs (RC).