Shelby County tops Eastern to reach KHSAA baseball tournament semis for 1st time since 2007
By Jason Frakes, Louisville Courier Journal,2023-06-03
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Named baseball coach at Shelby County High School in 2020, Steve Kingsolver saw his first season canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic and his second year end with a 7-20 record.
Now he has the Rockets two victories away from a state championship.
“I knew the potential was there because we have a deep pitching staff, which is super important, and we hit the ball,” Kingsolver said. “So, yeah, I knew it was possible.”
The Rockets’ magical postseason continued Saturday as they scored five runs in the first inning on the way to a 9-2 victory over Eastern in the quarterfinals of the Clark’s Pump-N-Shop State Tournament at Counter Clocks Field .
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“It feels so good to be top four now,” senior first baseman Myles Strong said. “We’re going to keep going, hopefully.”
Eastern finished 28-13 after reaching the state tournament for the first time since 1997.
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Eastern’s top two pitchers — senior Henry Craig and junior Landon Waugh — were ineligible to pitch Saturday after throwing in Thursday’s 7-5, 11-inning victory over Bullitt East in the first round.
Eagles coach T.J. Graves went to junior Andrew Whitmer on Saturday, hopeful his off-speed pitches would keep the Rockets off-balance.
“We thought it would be a blessing in disguise, but we just didn’t make the plays behind him,” Graves said. “Then the floodgates opened.”
Shelby County sent 10 batters to the plate in the top of the first, taking advantage of four hits, two errors, a walk and a hit batter to score five runs.
It was reminiscent of Thursday, when Shelby County scored twice in the first inning on its way to a 3-0 first-round victory over McCracken County .
“I don’t think it’s that we’re good at it; I think it’s just our approach,” Kingsolver said of the first-inning success. “We go up there to attack. If things work out good, we’ll put some runs up. Sometimes it doesn’t work out like that. … We were fortunate enough to get those runs early, and I think it put them at a disadvantage.”
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Strong singled in the first inning and finished 2-for-3 with an RBI.
“We like to come out aggressive,” he said. “That’s our whole thing. If we jump on them early, they get rattled, and usually we stay up the rest of the game.”
Shelby County added three runs in the second inning for an 8-1 lead and cruised the rest of the way.
Junior left-hander Jack Wills (7-1) allowed five hits and two runs (one earned) in 4 1/3 innings, striking out four.
“He didn’t have his best stuff, but he battled,” Kingsolver said. “I was proud of him. He held a really good team to two runs, and that shouldn’t be overlooked.”
Shelby County won its only state title in 1979 and is in the state semifinals for the first time since finishing as runner-up to Paul Dunbar in 2007.
Kingsolver knows the tenuous nature of postseason baseball but is enjoying the ride so far.
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“To get any type of success in the postseason, it takes a lot of luck,” he said. “Single-elimination, man. The ball bounces the wrong way one time and you’re going home. We’ve been fortunate.”
Brayden Nettles finished 2-for-3 with a double to lead Eastern’s six-hit attack. The Eagles will lose 11 seniors to graduation.
“It was an amazing ride, so fun,” Graves said. “I hope this opens the floodgates now at Eastern. We’re going to continue to get good athletes. We’re going to continue to get good players. The kids that are here have experienced it, and they know it can happen.”
SHELBY COUNTY 530 010 0 - 9 8 1
EASTERN 110 000 0 - 2 6 3
WP – Jack Wills (7-1). LP – Andrew Whitmer (2-3). Save – Carter White (2).
Jason Frakes: 502-582-4046; email@example.com; Twitter: @kyhighs.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Shelby County tops Eastern to reach KHSAA baseball tournament semis for 1st time since 2007