Much of this season Lewis County has relied on one big inning, either to complete a come-from-behind rally or blow open a close game.
The most recent example came in the opening round of the 16th Region Tournament, when Lewis County sent 17 batters to the plate in an epic third inning in which it scored all 11 of its runs en route to a win over West Carter.
It looked as if Lewis County may have another big inning brewing on Thursday night, with runners on first and second and nobody out in the sixth, but a quick conversation and one pitch was all Boyd County and pitcher Billy McCoy needed to squash the threat – he ended up tossing a complete game shutout as Boyd County beat Lewis County, 5-0, at Bath County Sports Complex.
After a brief talk with pitching coach Aaron Acuff, McCoy induced a ground ball, which he fielded and fired to shortstop Tanner Bryan, who stepped on second and threw to first to complete the double play.
Riding the wave of momentum, McCoy blew away the next Lewis County batter with a high fastball to end the inning and essentially the Lewis County season.
Boyd County (20-20) takes on Ashland in today’s championship game, which was originally scheduled for 6:30, but has been moved to 7 p.m. to help accommodate the two schools, since they will also be playing in the softball championship.
When asked what his coach had to say on his mound visit, McCoy said the message was simple.
“Calm down, throw strikes, and get a ground ball,” the sophomore said.
Three pitches later he would do just that, getting Kasey Riley to hit a high bouncing ball back to the mound.
A smiling McCoy admitted he was “a little bit” excited after the double play and used that emotion to record his only strikeout of the game.
In his last three outings, the junior has allowed just one run in 20 innings of work, and aside from the sixth inning, Lewis County did not pose a serious scoring threat.
“Boyd County is very fundamental, and they are not going to make very many mistakes. You have to make things happen, and we just didn’t get that done tonight,” Lewis County coach Keith Prater said. “We put the ball in play in almost every at-bat; I think we only had one strikeout. We knew we had to make things happen, unfortunately things didn’t bounce our way tonight.”
The Boyd County (20-20) defense didn’t leave much to chance in the way of bounces, as it gobbled up nearly every ground ball behind McCoy.
Prater was very complimentary of the Boyd County defense, especially of freshman shortstop Tanner Bryan, who not only was at the center of the key defensive play of the night but also made several other outstanding plays.
“The shortstop, I don’t know what grade he is in, but he is a heck of a player,” he said. “He made two plays in the first inning, when we were rallying. Those balls were up the middle and the kid made a play on them. We should have had at least one run there.”
Boyd County coach Brandon Ramsey joked that the diminutive Bryan, who stands at just 5-foot-6, is in the same grade as most of his team, ninth, but just not as big.
“He is the same age as the rest of them, just a little bit smaller,” a laughing Ramsey said. “He is a nice player and when he gets a little size and strength we think he will be a really good player.”
Just as it was a freshman that was at the center of the defense, it was a youngster at the heart of the offense.
Freshman catcher Jacob Barnwell drove in two runs with a pair of singles in the first and fifth innings, respectively.
Boyd County scored two times in the first and fifth innings and one in the fourth, on Corey Sublett’s single.
According to Ramsey, Barnwell, who caught all but one inning this season, was tired at the end of the regular season, but is feeling better now that he has had more rest.
“We didn’t have any rainouts this year, so he was catching five or six games a week, and I think towards the end of the year he just got tired,” he said. “Then we hit postseason where he caught two games last week, and this week he is finally getting his legs back under him.”
The offensive provided by Barnwell and Dylan Grimm, yet another freshman who drove in a run on Wednesday, was much needed by Boyd County in the absence of senior standout Trey Salisbury. He was serving the second game of his two-game suspension for being ejected from the 64th District title game.
The suspension may have been somewhat of a blessing in disguise for Boyd County. Not only do the Lions have their ace available to pitch in the championship, but being without the Eastern Kentucky signee also gives the Lions lineup some experience.
“Trey is our leader and they lean on him. They expect him to do the things on offense, in the field, and on the mound, and then all the sudden we didn’t have him,” Ramsey said. “I told them we are going to have to have guys step up and we are going to find out what kind of team we really are.”
The loss was a tough pill to swallow for Prater, whose team finished the year at 25-6, just one win shy of the school’s record for wins in a season.
“This is a hard one to swallow. This is not how you want to go out this year,” he said. “The kids bought in to what we are teaching, and Lewis County baseball is here to stay. We are going to be in it year in and year out.”