CANNONSBURG Break up the Muskies!
That’s probably been the request of a slew of opponents over the last dozen years.
They finally have no choice but to oblige, but what an incredible run it was for AJ Hacker, Corey Binion, Shane Taylor and Ryan Mullen — the quartet has played in concert since age 6.
Former Cave Run Muskies Hacker, Binion and Taylor are All-Area baseball honorees after Rowan County assembled a dynamite 39-4 season that ended in the state quarterfinals on Thursday in Lexington. McCracken County defeated the Vikings, 2-1.
Hacker concluded his splended career with a couple coveted accolades — Mr. Baseball and Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year. The Rowan County senior is also The Daily Independent’s All-Area Player of the Year.
Hacker polished off an unforgettable four years with state-most 137 strikeouts in 82 innings. He gave up only 38 hits, walked just 24, went 11-2, recorded a save and compiled a 0.60 earned run average. He batted .448 with nine home runs, 43 runs and a team-best 52 RBIs.
Hacker led a pitching staff that gave up 81 runs in 43 games (1.9 a contest). The Vikings strung together a KHSAA-record seven consecutive shutouts from May 11-27. Prior to that streak, Hacker delivered a no-hitter in a 7-1 toppling of Russell.
Even with his punchout prowess, the right-handed Morehead State signee gave ample credit to the Vikings’ defense.
“I trust these guys with my life,” Hacker said. “I can go straight to work and know they’ll get the outs.”
Rowan County won 31 games in a row before falling to the Mustangs at Whitaker Bank Ballpark. It was the Vikings’ second trip there in three seasons. Directed by the late Keith Prater, Rowan County represented the 16th Region in 2017.
All told, Rowan County went 120-37 over the last four seasons.
Taylor touted team togetherness as the Vikings’ prevailing trait.
“Our chemistry has been truly special,” Taylor said. “This is, by far, the most fun team I’ve ever been on. We truly get along with each other and we love being with each other.”
Taylor hit .437 with five long balls, 12 doubles, 50 RBIs and 49 runs. Binion, a sturdy staple behind the dish, cranked seven homers and 15 doubles while batting .413. Taylor is West Virginia State-bound. Binion inked with Tusculum University.
Matthew Gagliano (1.57 ERA, 64 Ks in 44.2 IP; 52 runs, 32 stolen bases) and Mason Moore (9-2 W-L, 83 Ks in 54 IP) also represent Rowan County on the All-Area squad.
Rowan County eliminated Ashland in the region championship. The Tomcats experienced surprising success after an 11th-hour coaching change. David Greene took over for the resigned Johnnie LeMaster on Feb. 5.
Greene closed the book on his head-coaching stay after one season, as expected by the interim skipper. He exits as the Keith Prater Memorial Coach of the Year. He deflected personal praise after a 23-11 season.
“They embraced the philosophy that today matters,” Greene said of Ashland’s two-word motto. “They practiced hard every day. They played hard every day. They’re such good young men. ... One of my favorite parts of the season was to watch them grow as a family.”
Ashland produced a pair of All-Area players. Zach Greene, David’s son, played shortstop and tallied six big flies and 35 RBIs. Evan Dickison batted .452 with seven bombs, 13 two-baggers and 38 RBIs. He was thankful for David Greene’s dugout positivity.
“I like how he came in there and rebuilt our program,” Dickison said. “I thought it was awesome, and I love playing for him. We had fun playing out there.”
Ashland pinned the lone region loss onto Rowan County. The Tomcats also had a handful of other impressive wins, including a defeat of Lawrence County, but they couldn’t solve Boyd County. The Lions went 3-0 against Ashland this spring.
Led by All-Area selections Bryce Carley, BB Layne, Austin Watkins and Austin Mullins, Boyd County went 25-8 under first-year coach Frank Conley.
Watkins led the Lions with a .398 average. He stole 15 bags and drove in 27 runs. Carley covered plenty of ground in center field and paced Boyd County in RBIs with 29. Layne batted .376 with a team-high 20 walks and reached a dozen times by being plunked by pitches. Mullins hit .375 and became the Lions’ No. 1 arm, going 6-2 with a 2.35 ERA on the mound. He fanned 56 foes in 47 2-3 frames.
Nestling in just behind Boyd County in All-Area honorees are Russell and Raceland. Each had three.
Rams Hunter Lacks (.425 average, 48 RBIs, 55 runs, seven homers), Jake Heighton (.436, 12 doubles, 6 HR, 46 RBIs; 7-1 pitching record, 81 strikeouts, 53.2 IP) and Seth Mills (.416, three triples, 36 RBIs, 14 SB) had All-Area-worthy seasons as did Russell’s Isaac Jenkins (1.80 ERA, 77 Ks in 58.1 IP; .344 BA), Jacob Funk (.400 BA, five HR, three 3B) and Justin Manning (6-0, 2.18 ERA, 60 Ks in 45 IP).
Lawrence County, Johnson Central, Bath County and West Carter can claim two All-Area players apiece.
Jackson Feltner led the charge in powering baseballs out of the park. The Lawrence County junior had a state-high 14 jacks — a program record — to go with 55 RBIs. He was 8-1 on the mound. Teammate C.J. Fairchild batted .471 with nine long balls. He had a sub-2 ERA on the mound, but he played four other positions — third base, shortstop, second and center field — for the 15th Region champions that had a school-mark 35 triumphs.
The Bulldogs outdueled Johnson Central in the region title contest. The Golden Eagles were led by Blake Delong (.448, 14 2B, 39 runs; 2.43 ERA with 53 Ks in 31.2 IP) and Ryley Preece (.463 BA, 16 SB, six HR, five 3B, 15 2B, 37 RBIs, 57 runs; 6-1 W-L with a 1.29 ERA).
Duo Landan Swartz and Nathan Davis were standouts for Bath County. Swartz hit .396 with 17 steals. Davis is a .387 hitter with 19 base thefts. The junior tallied 72 strikeouts in 60 frames.
Representing the Comets are Ben Wilburn and Trevor Callahan. Wilburn was among the state’s leaders in hits (61) while batting .508. He swiped 31 bags and racked up 18 doubles. Callahan hit .412 with 43 RBIs. He had a 2.52 ERA and amassed 87 strikeouts in 58 1-3 innings.
Also from the 62nd District are All-Area selections Caden McDavid (East Carter) and Payton Hampton (Morgan County). As the Cougars’ ace, Hampton collected 105 strikeouts in 58 innings. He posted a 2.78 ERA. McDavid was 6-0 from the rubber, putting together a 1.75 ERA while fanning 87 in 52 frames.
Lewis County’s Seth Wright was tough to hit in his swan song. The Kentucky Wesleyan signee assembled the following All-Area numbers: 1.57 ERA, 97 punchouts in 62 1-3 innings.
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