LLOYD A pitching classic between Lewis County’s Seth Wright and Russell’s Isaac Jenkins in the 63rd District Tournament opener came down to a couple of caroms off the backstop at Greenup County High School.
Freshman pinch-runner Dylan Hardy raced home from third in the bottom of the fifth inning to give Lewis County a 1-0 victory as Jenkins’ wild pitch hit the brick wall and angled away from the diamond.
In the sixth, Russell had Jacob Thompson on third when an offering from Wright got through to the backstop. But this one ricocheted directly back to catcher Randy Irey, preventing Thompson from attempting to score.
Wright escaped the jam with a strikeout. The senior right-hander finished off his three-hitter on a called third strike in the seventh with two runners aboard.
“It’s crazy. It’s nuts,” Lewis County coach Sammy Holder said of the caroms that played a key role in deciding the outcome.
Russell coach Tim Rice shook his head a bit.
“That’s the way the ball bounces,” he said. “Both guys threw incredible.”
Jenkins, a junior, also twirled a three-hitter with 11 strikeouts in six innings.
“Jenkins is one of a kind,” Holder said. “He’s so tough to hit against. He hides the ball well, mixes up (arm) angles and changes speeds. He’s going to have a tremendous career.”
Meanwhile, Wright kept the Red Devils (15-18) off balance thanks to a dandy curveball. He struck out 12 and did not walk a batter.
“He’s got a plus breaking ball and next-level stuff,” Rice said. “That’s why he’s going to (Kentucky) Wesleyan next year.”
Wright, also known for his competitive nature, recalled losing a game at Russell back in his sophomore season.
“I wanted the ball,” Wright said of Monday’s elimination game. “I trusted my defense. We’ve had a couple of injuries this season but I still trusted them, especially my catcher.”
Irey became a starter behind the plate late this season after Wyatt Yates sprained a knee. Irey was a game-time decision Monday, however.
“He had high blood pressure and was lightheaded all day,” Holder said. “We didn’t know coming down here if he could play. We were warming up and he said he was good to go.”
The game marked only the second time Irey has caught Wright.
“Randy stepped up,” Holder said. “If he hadn’t been able to go we would have had to put our third baseman (Adam Montgomery) back there.”
Lions shortstop Mark Sparks made a nice play up the middle to retire Jenkins leading off the seventh. Russell mounted a two-out threat beginning with Grant Wilburn’s infield single. Josh Cox struck out swinging but Lewis County failed to complete the out at first base.
It didn’t rattle Wright, who registered his final strikeout to send Lewis County into tonight’s district championship game against Raceland.
Wright took a no-hitter into the seventh inning last Wednesday against Boyd County before Lewis County came out on the short end of a 2-1 score. He was happy to win the contest with higher stakes.
“This was the game that matters,” said Wright, who said it took him a little while to find the groove with his curve. “I do a little flip with the ball that makes more rotation. I finally got it down pat about the third inning. I mixed in the slider and fastball.”
Lewis County (15-16) will be going for its first district title since 2012, when Holder was an up-and-coming sophomore for the Lions.
“It’s nice to get this win against a good Russell team,” he said. “The kids came into the season with a work ethic. We’ve battled adversity and everything’s still right in front of us.”
Garrett Applegate doubled and singled to account for two of Lewis County’s three hits. The Lions loaded the bases with one out in the sixth, aided by a passed ball on a strikeout. But Jenkins got the next two batters looking at third strikes.
“Isaac’s special,” Rice said. “I’m so happy I’ve got him for one more year. He’s just starting to figure out what he can do. I look for him to be playing baseball for a long time.”
RUSSELL 000 000 0 — 0 3 1
LEWIS CO. 000 010 x — 1 3 1
Jenkins and Wilburn; Wright and Irey. W—Wright. L—Jenkins. 2B—Applegate (LC).