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CRESTWOOD – The Collins High School baseball team is going to State.
And, as has been the case this postseason, the Titans earned that right thanks to another nail-biter.
Collins slipped past Spencer County 4-3 Thursday night in the 8th Region Tournament final at South Oldham.
“This team knows how to win,” said Titans Coach Roy Bailey with what has become a familiar refrain for him given the fact that Collins has won four of its five tournament games by one run. “I wish they’d win by more. Thinking about it before the game, though, I figured it would be four to three or three to two, something like that.”
The Titans (32-6) will now take on 11th Region champ Tates Creek (32-6) at 8:30 p.m. Monday night in the first round of the 2013 Forcht Bank/KHSAA State Baseball Tournament at Whitaker Bank Ballpark in Lexington. The two teams have already met once this season. The Commodores clipped Collins 5-1 on April 26 in the Louisville Invitational Tournament.
Speaking of a familiar foe, Thursday’s game was the third meeting this season between the Titans and the Bears. Collins won the first two – 5-0 April 22 in Shelbyville, then 4-3 last Wednesday in the 30th District Tournament final at the Shelby County Athletic Complex. The Titans triumphed in the latter thanks to a walk-off walk. Similar to the last meeting, Collins moved out to the early lead, and then hung on.
The Titans tallied two runs in the bottom of the third inning when starting pitcher Buddy Johnson helped his own cause with a 2-out, bases-loaded single up the middle.
Spencer County (23-11) scratched one across in the top of the fourth when Colin Travis was allowed to go home after Collins third baseman Mason Jeffries was called for interfering with the base runner.
The Titans, though, padded their lead by adding a pair of runs in the bottom of the fifth. Logan Bailey singled with one out before Spencer’s Austin Heilman hit Nate Clifton with a pitch. Johnson then hit into a fielder’s choice (Bailey was out at third) before Heilman walked Zac Wiley to load the bases. Heilman, who seemed to be tiring at that point, then walked Dan Sanders to score Clifton. Moments later Heilman’s wild pitch brought in Johnson, making it 4-1. Brian Riggs then replaced Heilman on the mound and struck out Perry to end Collins’ threat.
Then Johnson, who picked up the save in Collins’ 7-6 victory over host South Oldham in the first round of the region tourney, gave up a leadoff single to Nick Vuick and a double to Riggs to start the sixth. After Josh Ferency struck out, Cole singled to left to score Vuick and Blake Lambdin (who was running for Riggs).
But Wiley, Collins’ catcher, came up the third base line to cut off the throw home and quickly threw to second, where Cole was tagged out trying to stretch his hit into a double. Johnson got the next batter, Chase Barnes, to ground out to get out of the top of the inning.
That was it for Johnson, as the senior right-hander gave up three earned runs on eight hits while walking two and striking out five in six innings.
“He gritted it out,” Bailey said. “He may not have had his best stuff, but the main thing was that he was tough mentally.”
Sanders came on in the seventh and closed the door on the Bears, striking out Lance Shelton to end the game. It was the second save of the season for Sanders, who is 10-0 as a starter.
“This is huge, we just made history,” he said of the program’s first regional title.
Johnson and Sanders were joined on the all-tournament team by classmates Nate Clifton and David Decker. Decker, the hero of the Titans’ semifinal victory over Simon Kenton, was named most valuable player of the tournament.
Afterward, Decker was enjoying the moment on the field while holding the regional championship trophy in his right hand and the regional MVP trophy in his left hand.
“It’s really awesome,” he said. “I’m just so excited we get to go to the state tournament in Lexington.”
COLLINS 4, SPENCER COUNTY 3
Spencer County 000 102 0 – 3 8 0
Collins 002 020 X – 4 5 0
Austin Heilman, Brian Riggs (5) and Nathan Connard. Buddy Johnson, Dan
Sanders (7) and Zac Wiley. W – Johnson (5-1). L – Heilman. SV - Sanders (2). 2B – Riggs (SC).
Records – Spencer County 23-11, Collins 32-6.