In Cincinnati, when Reds pitchers strike out 11 batters in a game, ticket-holding patrons win free pizza.
In Cannonsburg, when Boyd County pitchers eat pizza for breakfast, they strike out 10 opposing batters and win a region tournament game.
At least, that was what happened Saturday.
At batting practice the afternoon before, Lions coach Frank Conley was looking for a way to make sure his team was properly fed in preparation for a 10 a.m. first pitch against Lewis County in the 16th Region Tournament quarterfinals at Raceland.
“The bus leaves at 8:15 and we’re taking batting practice at 7 a.m. (Saturday) morning,” Conley said. “You know high school boys — if they have to be at the field to hit at 7, they’re gonna roll out of the house at 6:55 and they’re not gonna eat anything. We’re gonna provide breakfast for them, is what we decided, and I thought we’d get them donuts or something like that, something small and kinda keep it as light as we could.”
Boyd County assistant coach Tim Nelson countered that he had read an article regarding cold leftover pizza as one of the best breakfast fuels. BB Layne chimed in, Conley said, that he knows of a CrossFit athlete of some renown, Rich Froning, who eats a pizza for breakfast on competition days.
“So I was sold at that point,” Conley said. “After graduation ceremonies (Friday night) I called in and ordered four pizzas. I called about 15 minutes later and added two more on to it because I know teenage boys are gonna eat like horses.
“About 7:30 on Saturday morning we’re all in our dugout just having pizza for breakfast.”
It worked: Boyd County knocked off Lewis County, 3-0. The white-and-red clad Lions strung together seven hits and effectively used small ball against the black-and-blue-wearing Lions’ ace, Seth Wright, and Boyd County pitcher Jonny Stevens recorded 10 punchouts in a complete-game effort.
“I told BB when we decided to do it on Friday afternoon, ‘Hey, if we come out of this with a win, we’re gonna have pizza for breakfast every chance we get,’” Conley said. “I think it’s probably gonna be something that sticks around for a while.”
Stevens was one of a handful of pitchers across northeastern Kentucky who turned in strong outings that were not only effective in the interim, but preserved bullpens for today’s semifinals and Tuesday’s title games.
Stevens went the distance for Boyd County against Lewis County. Conley toyed with the idea of lifting him after six innings to try to have him available for Tuesday, but it took Stevens 79 pitches to get there, which rendered him ineligible for three days per National Federation of High Schools pitch count rules.
That leaves everyone else available for today’s showdown with Rowan County. Austin Mullins, Brock McNeil and Ryan Ratliff have each thrown 30 innings or more and possess an earned-run average of 2.54 or less.
For West Carter, Trace Tackett threw a complete game in the quarterfinals against Bath County. He rewarded coach Matt Clark for preserving ace Trevor Callahan for tonight’s semifinal showdown with Ashland.
Clark had initially pondered throwing Callahan against the Wildcats.
“It came down to a gut decision there,” Clark said. “I talked it over with some of my coaches and the people familiar with our team and our program, and the gamble for us to try to get to the second round and beyond was worth the risk to us of possibly going out in the first round, of what it could really do for our program.”
In addition to Callahan, West Carter has Caleb Lambert and brothers Hunter Jessie and David Jessie available to pitch, among others. Lambert sports a 1.75 ERA in 32 innings.
Rowan County, who boasts one of the best and deepest pitching staffs in the 16th Region in recent memory, is at full strength going into its semifinal today against Boyd County. That includes the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year, AJ Hacker, and sterling second option Mason Moore. Matthew Gagliano threw 48 pitches in his quarterfinal start against East Carter on Saturday, which necessitates only one day of rest, which he got Sunday.
Hacker, Moore, Gagliano and Chase Alderman have each thrown more than 30 innings and carry ERAs of 1.59 or less.
Ashland coach David Greene has resisted the urge to look too far ahead, he said.
“We have preached to our kids all year to focus on the game we are playing that day,” Greene said. “Heck, even our motto this year has been #TodayMatters. If that’s who we want our kids to be, we have to be that way as a staff. Staying short-sighted has allowed many of our guys on the staff to be in tough situations throughout the season. Those adversity moments give them more confidence each time out.”
Robbie Francis went two innings in relief against Raceland in the quarterfinals and will be in the mix to pitch today or tomorrow, if the Tomcats reach the final. Jacob Peach and Ryan Atkins have also given Ashland quality starting pitching, with ERAs of 1.68 and 3.40, respectively.
And in the 15th ...
Lawrence County and Johnson Central are by far the two winningest teams in the 15th Region, and both got complete-game efforts in Saturday’s region quarterfinals as they eye a potential showdown in Tuesday’s title game at Floyd Central.
Lucas Maynard worked all day for the Bulldogs in an 11-4 win over Paintsville.
“Being honest with you, at the beginning of the year, if you’d have told me that I would’ve started Lucas Maynard against Paintsville in Round 1 of the regional tournament, I probably would’ve laughed at you,” Lawrence County coach Travis Feltner said. “But he has flat-out gone out and performed in some big games, and he deserved that ball.”
Feltner called this the deepest pitching staff the Bulldogs have had in his 21 years on the coaching staff in Louisa, with six pitchers who have worked 30 quality innings or more — Maynard, C.J. Fairchild, Bryce Blevins, Tyler Maynard, Jacob Fletcher and Jackson Feltner.
Has that embarrassment of riches made Feltner consider continuing to save aces Fairchild and Blevins for a potential final against the Golden Eagles, even as Pikeville looms in today’s semifinals?
“It’s tempting, I’m not gonna lie to you,” Feltner said. “I can tell you right now, we’re not gonna play a championship game with the cupboard empty. I think the other side of the bracket, those coaches would probably say the same thing. I know (coach) Shawn (Hall) over at Johnson Central, you’re not playing just to make it to the championship. You’re playing to win it. That’s our plan.”
As for the Golden Eagles, Andrew Music pitched a complete game in a 6-0 quarterfinal win over Floyd Central. Hall would like to save ace Ryley Preece for the final, he said, and start Conner Lemaster in today’s semifinals against Belfry. That would also render Gabe Ferrell, Blake Delong, Grant Davis and Brady Hitchcock available in relief over the next two days.
Preece will be on call against the Pirates, though, Hall said.
“The games will dictate how we use those guys,” the coach said.
Nothing ‘soft’ about these decisions
In the not-so-distant past, softball coaches didn’t much have to wonder who an opponent’s pitcher would be. Not so now: all four teams in today’s 16th Region Tournament semifinals will have quality pitching options.
Ashland boasts Mykayla Akers and Haylie Haney, who have both surpassed 85 innings and have an ERA of 2.61 or less.
“The last couple years, we’ve had a good situation,” Kittens coach Scott Ingram said. “I don’t know that we can really make a bad choice. In certain situations, you’re maybe just looking for the best matchups overall.”
For Raceland, it’s Raegan West, Kierston Smith and Cameryn Davidson. All three have 68 innings or more in the circle.
Not only are those three good pitching options, they also give Lady Rams coach Shawn Johnson choices of how to align the defense. He said as of Sunday evening he hadn’t made up his mind yet who will toe the rubber today against Boyd County.
“If we go with Cam, we put a nice defense out there. With Rae, we got a nice defense,” Johnson said. “Obviously we don’t like taking Kierston off shortstop, but she’s a high-quality pitcher and if the situation presents itself, we won’t hesitate to start her or bring her in in any situation.”
West has battled back trouble and Smith missed time with a severe kidney infection. Both are better and available, Johnson said.
Boyd County’s Bailey Conley has gotten the (Lady) Lions’ share of the innings, at 116 1-3 with a 2.51 ERA. But four other pitchers on the staff have earned a win — Chloe Watts, Tori Badgett, Ashley Howard and Sara Bays. Watts has worked 57 2-3 frames.
“Our other pitchers, their innings are not where Bailey’s is,” Boyd County coach Dave Wheeler said, “but it’s not like we’ve thrown them against teams that couldn’t play. We lost 10-6 to Raceland (May 14); we threw three different girls and gave them three different looks, and when you get to this point in the postseason, it’s kinda like, are we gonna stay this long with someone, or are we gonna go to the next person? That’s how we’re gonna have to look at it.”
And Rowan County trots out three pitchers with ERAs south of 3. Macy Jones has tossed 137 1-3 frames, but Erin Wilburn and Haley Middleton each have 44 or more frames to their names.
Lady Vikings coach Larry Slone named Jones the starter against Ashland in today’s semifinals — “she’s the one that got you there; she’s the one that we’re gonna live or die with,” he said.
The specter of having multiple quality options for Rowan County to have to face in the circle keeps Slone and assistant coach Ron O’Hair hopping. They both throw batting practice to simulate different looks.
The 70-year-old Slone, formerly an open-class fast-pitch hurler himself, on some days still tosses 300 pitches, he said.
“I can’t get it up there like I used to,” Slone said, “but I can still throw it between 48 and 52, 53 (mph), somewhere in there.”
He hopes it helps against an Ashland team that possesses more than one strong hurler.
“Making that adjustment is really hard,” Slone said. “If you’ve got a kid who has good velocity and then you go to one who has good movement, it’s a three-inning adjustment. You’re very fortunate to overcome that.”
Reach ZACK KLEMME at email@example.com or (606) 326-2658. Follow @zklemmeADI on Twitter.