Randy Keeton’s coaching career came to an end last month at the State Baseball Tournament in Lexington.

Or did it?

“It was my last year at Lawrence County and I don’t know what I’ll do next,” the longtime coach said. “I may get back in it if the right situation arose. Once it gets in your blood, it’s hard to get out.”

Keeton, who led the Bulldogs on an impressive run through the State Tournament, is The Independent’s Tony Curnutte Memorial Sportsman of the Year for 2007-08.

After coaching in four decades, Keeton, 61, coached his final game in the State championship at Applebee’s Park in June. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs dropped a 4-1 decision to state powerhouse Pleasure Ridge Park.

“It was great to come in second but it still hurt,” Keeton said. “It was more than just a few tears that night. It bothers me that we got that close and didn’t get it.”

The Bulldogs’ run was Keeton’s most impressive in his stint at Lawrence County. They’re 32-8 record bested the school record for wins in a season by one.

“We’ve had a lot of good teams over the years but this one you’d probably have to call the best just because of their statistics,” Keeton said.

He began his career coaching at the former Louisa High School in the 1970s, then returned to Lawrence County in 1983 to coach for four years. After a brief hiatus from head coach, he returned in 1993 and has been the Bulldogs’ leader ever since.

During his time at Lawrence County, Keeton led the Bulldogs to four regional championships and five regional runner-ups in both the 15th and 16th regions.

The Bulldogs also got Keeton his 500th career win on April 17 against Morgan County in the Tiger Classic at Paintsville.

“That was pretty special because it was against my dad’s home school,” Keeton said. “I liked it especially because I had friends coaching at other schools (who also got 500 wins) and I liked being in that club with them. Morgan County came back and got us a little later — that was one of our eight losses — so I couldn’t gloat too much.”

Keeton, who was inducted into the Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2000, finished his career with a 523-319 record, which ranks him 20th among coaches in the state.

Another thing Keeton has enjoyed in his career is keeping in contact with former players and seeing them have successful careers, even outside of baseball. Those former players often keep tabs with the team through the media or family in the area.

“They keep up with it and know we’ve maintained the program,” Keeton said.

Keeton knew for some time this would be his last season.

“I said two or three years ago I’d try to make it 25 years. I did and now it’s time to give someone else a shot.”

During Keeton’s tenure, the Bulldogs made all-around improvements, including a top-notch playing facility, but his main focus was keeping the community and players attracted to high school baseball.

“I wasn’t the greatest coach but I tried to improve the program,” he said. “I tried to let the kids know baseball wasn’t just something you played in the spring. We were going to work at it and get better.

“The main thing is the interest was there and that’s what I did.”

Keeton’s affect on Lawrence County may be around for a long time after his retirement. His daughter, Erin Evans, coaches the Lady Bulldogs’ softball team, which finished the 2008 season a comparable 32-11 and captured their first regional title.

Although Keeton never got a state title, he feels certain this won’t be the last run Lawrence County makes at a crown.

“Lawrence County’s going to get one someday — whether it’s baseball, football or basketball — and hopefully I’m down there to see it.”

MELINDA ROBINSON can be reached at mrobinson@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2646.

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