The last time Rowan County lost a baseball game, March Madness (the NCAA Tournament) hadn’t officially concluded yet. Since then, it’s been April Amusement and May Mayhem for the Vikings.
Lawrence County coach Travis Feltner figured out the secret behind the 16th Region champions’ dominance.
“They put up an insane amount of runs and they give up very, very few,” Feltner said with a quick laugh. “They’re a two-headed monster.”
Since a setback to 10th Region titleholder Montgomery County on April 2, Rowan County has rattled off 30 consecutive wins.
The Vikings will go for No. 31 in a row on Saturday in Semi-State 8 against Lawrence County at Morehead State University at noon.
Lawrence County isn’t far off that pace, Vikings coach Scott Collins acknowledged.
“The biggest thing is we’ve not played them,” Collins said. “We’ve not seen them up close and personal. They came in here last year and beat us 5-0, so we’re somewhat familiar with them. They’re a very good program and have been for several years now. They’re going to hit the ball and pitch well.”
The Bulldogs own a program-record 35 wins. Since absorbing a 5-0 defeat against Rockcastle County, Lawrence County is 8-0. The Bulldogs blasted a pair of long home runs — Jackson Feltner and C.J. Fairchild went deep — as they upended Johnson Central, 12-7, in the 15th Region title game.
Rowan County (38-3), which also possesses a program high in victories, rocked Ashland, 12-2, in five innings.
“Ashland had us down a little bit (1-0 in the first inning), which was probably good for us,” Collins said. “We’ve had good plate approaches and we can score several runs. We’ve been fortunate enough to do that.”
AJ Hacker paces a quartet of Rowan County hitters toting better-than-.400 batting averages. The senior lefty, who pitches right-handed, is hitting .465 with a team-high nine home runs and 49 RBIs — second only to Shane Taylor’s 50. Catcher Corey Binion has driven in 42 runs. Taylor has scored 47 runs, just ahead of Chase Alderman’s 46. Matthew “Gags” Gagliano has stolen 32 bags.
Lawrence County will counter the Vikings’ productive offense with a stable of quality arms. Bryce Blevins, Tyler Maynard, C.J. Fairchild and Jackson Feltner are a combined 26-4 from the rubber. Blevins, a freshman southpaw, carries an earned run average of just higher than 1. Maynard and Fairchild both have sub-2.60 ERAs.
Travis Feltner also likes his defense, which starts with senior catcher Austin Roe.
“He is the glue,” Feltner said. “Every guy looks to Austin. He’s caught every inning but two this year.”
As of the 58th District Tournament’s conclusion, Fairchild had the best batting average at .471. Maynard has racked up 57 hits. Junior Jackson Feltner has deposited a state-best 14 home runs beyond fences. He has 55 RBIs.
“I’ve never coached a kid hitting like this,” said Travis Feltner, Jackson’s father. “Some of the home runs he hits, they’re impressive for a high school kid. Give all the credit to him.”
Rowan County will likely tab Hacker its starting pitcher. The Morehead State signee is 10-1 with 120 strikeouts in 69 2-3 innings. Kentucky’s Gatorade Player of the Year’s ERA stands at 0.60.
“We’ve never seen Hacker, but I know what he’s capable of,” coach Feltner said.
“Hopefully that’ll be our trump card,” Collins said. “It’ll help (Hacker) get some mound time up there prior to getting (to MSU) in the fall.”
Hacker leads a pitching staff that has tossed seven one-hitters and three no-nos (one of which just spanned three innings).
Mason Moore is 9-2 with a 1.17 ERA. He’s tallied 83 punchouts in 54 frames. He pitched against Lawrence County while at Paintsville prior to transferring to the Vikings.
Collins is comfortable calling upon Gagliano, Alderman and Binion, among others, too. Before Ashland scratched across a run in the first stanza on Tuesday, Rowan County hurlers had piled up 46 consecutive scoreless innings. The Vikings have tossed 15 shutouts, which is third all-time in the state.
Every pitcher is available for both teams on Saturday.
Collins said the Vikings are thrilled to play in their figurative back yard.
“I think we’ll have a good turnout, but Lawrence will have a good crowd, too,” Collins said. “There’s a buzz around our town here and our community.”
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