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LEXINGTON – The Collins baseball team picked a fine time for one of its biggest innings of the season.
The Titans’ 6-run second inning – their largest single-inning output in more than two months – propelled them to a 6-4 victory over Tates Creek on Monday night in the first round of the 2013 KHSAA State Tournament at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
“Our hitting is starting to come back,” Collins Coach Roy Bailey said. “Early in the season we hit the ball much better [than we have lately], and I thought sooner or later it’s going to come back around.”
It did in the nick of time, in the Titans’ first appearance in the state tourney. Collins outhit the Commodores, 8-6, and half of its base knocks came in its Titanic second inning. That, coupled with some solid pitching by Dan Sanders and Buddy Johnson, put the Titans (33-6) in the state quarterfinals.
They play Henderson County (30-8) at 8:30 tonight. The Colonels are ranked No. 5 in the Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association Top 25 and No. 7 in the Kentucky Prep Baseball Report poll.
Collins, which is 12th in both rankings, earned that right by avenging an earlier loss to Tates Creek (32-7), which is ranked fourth and third, respectively, in those polls.
The Commodores had topped the Titans, 5-1, on April 26 at Derby City Field in the Louisville Invitational Tournament. In that game Collins had only a pair of singles, and Tates Creek roughed up Titans ace Austin Perry for one run in the first inning and four more in the second.
This time around it was Collins that broke open the game in the second inning, when the Titans sent 10 to the plate.
Mason Jeffries led off with a single to left-center field before Sanders walked on five pitches. Jeffries then advanced to third, and Alex Doyle. who was running for Sanders, to second, on an errant pickoff attempt to second by Tates Creek pitcher Caleb Johnson. Jeffries then was credited with a steal of home when he broke from third and scored on a wide pitch by Johnson that bounced off the backstop.
After Perry struck out, Paul Miller and David Decker walked to load the bases for Logan Bailey, who laced a single up the middle, scoring Doyle. Nate Clifton followed with another single up the middle to score Bryson Dillow, who was running for Miller.
Aaron Mitchell replaced Johnson on the mound, and another Johnson, Buddy, greeted him with a 2-run single down the right-field line that scored Decker and Bailey. Zac Wiley then grounded out to score Clifton, making it, 6-0.
It was the Titans’ biggest inning since they scored seven in the sixth inning on April 1 in a 14-4 victory over Carroll County. Collins’ biggest inning this season was an 8-run sixth inning against Jeffersontown on March 16.
“We just put a bunch of hits together,” said Logan Bailey, who finished the game 3-for-4 with one RBI and one run scored.
That gave the Titans – as well as Sanders – plenty of room to work.
“When you have a big inning like that, as long as you can manage the game and your pitchers can throw strikes, you can make it tough on the other guy,” Roy Bailey said.
Sanders improved to 11-0 by giving up two earned runs on four hits, while walking one and striking out four in 5 1/3 innings.
He gave up just a pair of singles in the first four frames. He escaped a runners-on-second-and-third-with-1-out jam in the third inning by getting the Commodores’ No. 2 hitter (Luke Rouse) to ground out and their No. 3 hitter (Javon Shelby) to pop out.
“It was key to get Dan through the first two innings,” Roy Bailey said.
Tates Creek, which came in riding an 18-game winning streak and averaging 9.6 runs per game in the postseason, plated its first run in the fifth.
Sanders clipped Austin Younce’s uniform with a pitch, giving him first base, with one out. Younce advanced to second on a wild pitch – one of five by Sanders – before pinch-hitter Blake Rouse singled in Max Sweet, who was running for Younce.
In the sixth Shelby, a University of Kentucky recruit, led off with a double to left field before advancing to third on a wild pitch, then scoring on another. After a fly out Jeff Chapuran, reached on a 1-out error by left fielder Decker. Johnson then came on in relief of Sanders and promptly got Jordan Fucci to ground out and Nick Richmond to strike out.
“Buddy goes in there, sits them down and does his job, you can’t ask for more than that,” Sanders said.
“Buddy can come in in any situation and get out of jams,” Roy Bailey said.
He got out of another in the seventh, in what has been a key inning for Collins in the postseason.
After walking Younce and striking out Nathan Black, Johnson gave up a 2-run homer to Devin Hairston.
“I almost broke my neck, I looked at it so hard,” Johnson said of the quick-to-leave-the-park shot.
Johnson then gave up a single to Rouse before getting Shelby to pop out. Then, after Rouse stole second, he induced Blake Rose to fly out to end the game.
“I just kept mentally tough,” said Johnson, who gave up two earned runs on two hits while walking one and striking out two in 1 2/3 innings.
Johnson was equally as big at the plate, going 3-for-3 with two RBIs.
Henderson County scouting report
The Colonels, who entered the State Tournament with a .325 batting average, have outscored their opponents, 306-117, (or 8.1 runs per game to 3.1).
“They’ve got some good hitters,” Roy Bailey said. “They swing it pretty good.”
So far in the postseason Henderson has outscored its opponents, 64-6, including a 11-1 6-inning victory over Letcher County Central in the first round Monday evening. In that game the Colonels had nine hits and also benefitted from 11 walks.
Henderson County is led by senior Sam Higgs, a Western Kentucky University recruit. He is the team’s top pitcher with a 10-1 record and a 1.38 earned-run average. He didn’t throw Monday and is Henderson’s probable starter tonight. Higgs also entered the Round of 16 hitting .376 with 41 RBIs.
The Colonels’ top hitter is Kaleb Duckworth, a junior who came into the tournament, hitting .467 with 11 home runs.
The Titans and Colonels have a couple of common opponents. Both played St. Xavier and Trinity. Henderson lost to St. X, 3-2, on March 30 before beating Trinity, 2-1, on April 27 in the Louisville Invitational Tournament. Collins, meanwhile, topped Trinity, 6-4, on March 19 before losing, 12-2, to the Tigers in the LIT.