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LEXINGTON -- In the end, the comeback kids not only couldn’t comeback, Shelby County squandered a 6-1, second-inning lead and fell to West Jessamine, 8-6, Monday in the opening round of the KHSAA Baseball Tournament at Applebee's Park.
"I thought we had it in us," Rocket Coach Bart Roettger said. "When you have the tying run at second base in the last inning, that's all you can ask for."
In the bottom of the seventh, down, 8-6, Josh Dennison and Matthew Purdom each singled to center field.
And with two outs and senior Brian Straub at bat, Dennison and Purdom advanced on a passed ball, putting the tying run in scoring position.
But Colts relief pitcher Alex Lester was just too hot, striking out Straub looking and ending the Rockets’ season with his 11th strikeout in just five-plus innings of work.
“My guys fought to the last out,” Roettger said. “He [Lester] threw harder. He came right at our guys. We wanted to create a little chaos. Credit that guy -- he stopped us.”
Early in the game, it looked as if West Jessamine was going to be leaving with a regretful loss full of errors. Shelby ran up a 6-1 lead through the second inning on five errors.
And the Rockets scored all their runs with two outs.
In the first inning, Dennison singled to left-center field to score James Wright and Kody Noonan, who was running for catcherJohn Hunter, to put Shelby up, 2-0. The Rockets (24-10) added a third run when the Colts bobbled a grounder by Purdom.
Then in the second inning, Colts starting pitcher Noah Smallwood walked Taylor Boone, who scored on Eric Standafer’s double to the center-field fence. Hunter singled to score Standafer as the Rockets continued to find the lanes for hits and capitalizes.
Lester came on to pitch, but Shelby went up 6-1 when Nate Clifton singled on a hard grounder over second base, scoring Noonan (for Hunter). The Rockets then left two runners on base when second baseman Kyle Mefford snagged Purdom’s line drive.
Now it was Shelby’s turn for some errors. West Jessamine’s one run in the top of the second came when pitcher Boone overthrew first base on Louie Helmburg’s bunt.
In the bottom of the third, the Colts scored two runs, one when Tyler West singled and another Boone hit Tre Pollard with the bases loaded to force a run.
The Colts made the score 6-4 when Leronn Morton tripled to center field and scored on a balk by relief pitcher Corey Williams balked.
About this time, Lester was finding his rhythm on the mound. He struck out the side in the fourth inning. The defense behind Lester tightened up, too, as the offense hit its stride.
The Colts tied the score in the top of the fifth. First Pollard drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.
Then Roettger tried to appeal that Blake Davis had not tagged before advancing to third, Williams misunderstood and threw at third, missing the third baseman, Boone, and allowing Davis to score.
“That’s my fault,” Roettger said. “But you know, that play didn’t lose the game. We put him in a bad position.”
In the top of the sixth, Williams walked Morton and Standafer relieved him.
Morton then stole second and, when he tried to steal third, Hunter overthrew the base, allowing Morton to score the go-ahead run. Gus Sherrow extended the lead to 8-6 when he scored on West’s single to right field.
Shelby’s defense gave them one last boost when Straub dived for a line drive by Dalton James to end the top of the seventh. But Lester had other plans.
Not only did he strike out two Rockets to end the game, he kept his composure when lead-off batter Hunter’s drive nailed him in the foot, and he threw out Hunter as he dived into first base.
“We let it all hang out,” Roettger said. “Unfortunately, it came down to them executing and us coming up short.”