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A player nicknamed “Giggles” helped the Collins baseball team get the last laugh – and the only run – Wednesday night against its crosstown rival.
Sophomore Paul Miller’s run-scoring single in the top of the fifth inning was the difference in the Titans’ 1-0 triumph over Shelby County in a key 30th District game – as well as one between two Top 25 teams – at the Shelby County Athletic Complex.
The victory clinched the No. 1 seeding in the 30th District Tournament for Collins (25-4, 3-0), which is ranked 11th in the Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association and Kentucky Prep Baseball Report Top 25s. The Rockets (22-8-1, 2-1), who are 21st and 22nd in those polls, will be seeded No. 2 in the tournament, which is May 21-22 at the SCAC.
“It’s a big victory; it’s huge for the team,” said Collins senior Dan Sanders, whose team avenged its 10-8, 11-inning loss to Shelby County in last year’s 30th District Tournament semifinals.
Once again, as he has been all season (both figuratively and literally), Sanders, a tall right-hander, was sizable for the Titans, walking three and striking out nine in five innings, to improve to 8-0. He also made the biggest defensive play of the game after he moved to first base when Buddy Johnson replaced him on the mound. Johnson earned his second save with two innings of hitless relief.
“It was a good thing we had Big Dan and Buddy tonight because we didn’t swing it that great,” said Collins Coach Roy Bailey, whose team managed just four singles. “These games get tight. Sometimes you have to win them like that.”
The game was a pitchers’ duel among Sanders and Johnson and Shelby County senior Tyler Eades, who yielded one earned run on those four hits while walking one and striking out four.
“It was a baseball game where the pitchers set the tone,” Shelby County Coach Bart “Rudy” Roettger said.
Neither team threatened until the third inning.
In the top of the inning Miller reached on a one-out error and advanced to second when Eades walked Logan Bailey, but the next batter Nate Clifton (who topped the Titans with two hits) hit into a 6-3 double play.
In the bottom of the inning Kipp Moore and Austin Rhodes had back-to-back, one-out singles before Bruner grounded out to Johnson at second. Then, with runners on second and third, Sanders struck out Kevin Veeley to end the inning.
Then came Miller time.
Eades hit Sanders on the left forearm with a pitch to start the fifth inning, and senior Michael Smither sacrificed sophomore Eric Burk, who was running for Sanders, to second. That brought up Miller, the Titans’ No. 9 hitter who had six hits in his first 29 at-bats of the season.
After taking the first pitch for a ball, Miller fouled off a pair of pitches before lining the next into left field, scoring Burk.
“He threw a splitter,” said Miller, who earned his nickname for his propensity to smile as a youngster. “It started off at my letters and dropped to about my ankles, and I just threw the bat at it and got it on it
Said Bailey: “He had a good at-bat. He just made something happen, he put it in play. He just got the bat down. That’s the way it works some times.”
After a couple of early opportunities it appeared that Shelby County’s time to score was going to come in the sixth. Sanders walked Bruner to start the bottom of the inning, and Veeley reached on an error on his sacrifice bunt.
With Rockets on first and second and no outs, Bailey, who expected the next Shelby County batter to bunt, moved Johnson – “Because he’s quick as a cat out there,” Bailey said – onto the mound and Sanders to first.
Zach Holmes bunted Johnson’s first offering down the first-base line, where a hard-charging Sanders snared the ball and fired to third base to force out Bruner.
“I went over there trying to stop it, but it hit me right in the palm, then I heard Buddy say, “Go third, go third,’” Sanders said. “It’s weird how that works. The baseball gods just put it right in my glove.”
Johnson then struck out pinch-hitter Steven Standafer before getting Kyler Dugle to bounce to Miller, who forced Holmes out at second.
Shelby County had another scoring opportunity in the seventh, when Kyle Durbin led off by grounding to Miller, but Miller’s throw slipped out of his hand and sailed over Sanders’ head, allowing Durbin to get to second base. He moved to third when Eades was out at first on a dropped third strike.
The next batter, Moore, who is hitting .353, hit a high pop up that Miller caught near the foul line behind first base. Johnson then walked Rhodes on a 3-2 pitch, putting runners on first and third, before getting Bruner – Shelby’s leading hitter – to bounce out to Sanders at first to end the game.
“We keep preaching that little things win baseball games, and tonight was a prime example of that,” Roettger said. “We just didn’t execute.”
The Titans, who played at Christian Academy of Louisville on Thursday, play at Lexington Catholic, which is third in the PBR poll and sixth in the KHSBCA poll, at 11 a.m. Saturday. They play at South Oldham at 6 p.m. Monday before hosting Henry County at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
The Rockets play at Southern at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and at Bullitt Central on Tuesday.
“There are a lot of things we can go back and second-guess [in this game], but we’ve just got to use that to get better,” Roettger said.
COLLINS 1, SHELBY COUNTY 0
Collins 000 010 0 – 1 4 2
Shelby County 000 000 0 – 0 3 1
Dan Sanders, Buddy Johnson (6) and Zac Wiley. Tyler Eades and Kevin Veeley. W – Sanders (8-0). L – Eades (3-4). SV – Johnson (2). Records – Collins 25-4, 3-0; Shelby County 22-8-1, 2-1.