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LAWRENCEBURG – Had the TV cameras been rolling, it would have been an instant classic.
Instead, the 30th District championship game will just live on in the memory of one of Kentucky's best high school sports rivalries.
John Hunter sent Steven Watts' breaking pitch well over the left-field fence in the bottom of the eighth inning to give Shelby County a 5-3 victory over host Anderson County to claim the title.
“It was a curveball,” Hunter said. “He just threw it in there.”
Hunter's blast scored also scored pinch runner Logan Bailey and ended another routine nail-biter in this long rivalry. It also ended Shelby's two years of frustration against its arch-rival, which was going for its third consecutive district crown.
“This feels like a lot of weight has been lifted off our shoulders,” said Shelby Coach Bart Roettger, who won his first post-season tournament in three years at the helm.
Taylor Boone pitched an inning-and-a-third in relief of Corey Williams to get the victory. Williams had been one strike away from a complete game.
With two out and two strikes in the top of the seventh, Williams plunked pinch-hitter Shae Sparrow with a pitch before freshman Logan Woodside smacked a double to drive Sparrow in to tie things at 3. Roettger then made the change.
Williams gave up five hits, did not walk a batter and struck out five.
Even though the Bearcats had erased a 3-0 deficit, Hunter was not worried. “I knew we were going to win,” he said.
Hunter led the Shelby attack with three hits and a sacrifice fly. He was credited with three RBIs.
Anderson put up a major threat in the top of the eighth, loading the bases with one out, but Boone got out of the threat.
Shelby (23-10) had gotten a break when Anderson's Jacob Russell led off the inning with a single, but Hunter cut him down trying to steal second base.
The Rockets, the home team by virtue of being the district's top seeding, got to Anderson starter Michael Harley in the bottom of the first when leadoff hitter Tyler Tipton singled, then came home on James Wright's double. Wright eventually crossed home plate on Hunter's sacrifice fly.
The Rockets added to their lead in the second when Nate Clifton came home on Taylor Boone's sacrifice fly.
“The story tonight was when they got runners in scoring position early, they got them in,” Anderson Coach L.W. Barnes said.
It would be all of Shelby's offense until Hunter went deep. “Harley did a good job for them,” Roettger said. “After the first couple of innings, he kept his composure.”
Harley yielded six hits before giving way to lefty Kyle DeLong, Anderson's ace, in the sixth. DeLong had been nursing a sore arm and had limited availability but struck out four in two innings of work.
Anderson (18-12) finally got on the board in the top of the sixth when Kyle Rogers deposited a pitch by Williams well over the right-field fence, scoring Russell to make it 3-2.
Both coaches said that the possibility of the Rockets and Bearcats meeting for the regional crown for the second consecutive year and the fourth time in the last decade was not out of the question.
“I anticipate that,” Roettger said with a smile. “It's fun playing Anderson.”
Said Barnes: “This is what we coach for. To have a great game like this, to have kids in this situation. This was an awesome game to be a part of.”
E-mail John Herndon at email@example.com.
ANDERSON CO. 000 002 10 – 3 7 2
SHELBY CO. 210 000 02 – 5 9 0
Harley, DeLong (6), Watts (8) and Fogle. Williams, Boone (7) and Hunter. W – Boone. L – Watts. 2B –Woodside (AC), Rogers (AC), Tipton (SC), Boone (SC). HR – Rogers (AC), Hunter (SC). Records: Anderson Co. 18-12, Shelby Co. 23-10.