ASHLAND Russell-Flatwoods 11-12 All-Stars executed their plan and the group will be heading to the state tournament for the third consecutive year.
Out to a 4-2 lead after one inning in the District 6 finals Monday night, manager Chris Mokas turned to ace pitcher Connor Thacker.
The big, hard-throwing right-hander struck out nine Morehead batters over four scoreless innings. Russell-Flatwoods finished with a 9-4 victory at Charlie Parks Field.
“Great team,” Mokas complimented his squad. “Three years in a row, starting out with 10s, they have never lost in the region.”
That includes the area and district levels. Russell-Flatwoods defeated Morehead 10-6 on Sunday. Thacker came on to pitch the sixth inning of that game and Mokas wanted to maximize his usage Monday to wrap up the title.
“Thacker’s our best pitcher,” Mokas said. “After that first inning, we brought Connor in and rolled with him. He’s beaten Morehead three years now, so they were familiar with him. They knew he was coming in, it was just a matter of when.”
Thacker worked into the sixth inning before reaching an 85-pitch rule limit. He left after allowing a leadoff walk and Carson Madden’s infield single. Morehead’s Aaron Pennington hit a two-run single before reliever Kyle Mokas closed it out with two strikeouts.
Russell-Flatwoods players celebrated on the diamond, then posed for photos with their championship banner in the outfield.
“Our kids are just resilient,” said their manager. “We’ve played a lot of games with them. Their parents are great and get along well. It’s a blessing to coach this bunch.”
Morehead struck first against starter Ryland Kersey. Pennington, who went 3 for 4, led off the game with an infield hit and lefty swinging Abram Norden followed with an opposite-field single. Both runners eventually scored on wild pitches for a 2-0 lead.
Russell-Flatwoods escaped further damage in the inning with a pickoff at first base, then answered with four runs in the bottom half. Norden walked the first four batters and Jayden Frasure cleared the bases with a double to the gap in right-center field.
“Jayden’s had big hits all year,” Chris Mokas said. “It really got us going today.”
Morehead tried to answer in the second inning, but Carson Madden was called out at the plate trying to score on a wild pitch. Manager Ronnie Goldy protested and received a quick ejection.”
“Morehead has a great group of kids and class coaches,” Chris Mokas. “I’m sorry it got out of hand.”
Goldy had to leave the premises but returned after an inning and watched the rest of the game from beyond the left-field fence.
Norden settled down to keep Russell-Flatwoods off the scoreboard again until an unearned run in the fourth. Grayson Kiser stole third and continued home on a throwing error.
“Sometimes he takes a little bit to get dialed in,” Goldy said of Norden. “It was a rough first inning. I’m not sure what was going on there.”
Russell-Flatwoods broke it open with a four-run fifth — three of them scoring on errors. Landon Stapleton singled to start it off and Kiser later added a bunt single. His second run set the final score.
“We had a bad defensive inning and kind of imploded,” Goldy said. “It doesn’t take away from all they’ve done the last three years. I’m very proud of my kids. Also, hats off to Russell-Flatwoods and best to them at state. If we can’t win it, I hope they do.”
Next stop is Prestonsburg in three weeks.
“We feel really good about our team,” Chris Mokas said. “Those games at state won’t be too big for these kids.”
MOREHEAD 200 002 — 4 6 6
RUSS.-FLAT. 400 14x — 9 4 3
Norden, Crowe (5) and Pennington; Kersey, Thacker (2), Mokas (6) and Hankins. W—Thacker. L—Norden. 2B—Frasure (RF).
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