BASEBALL: Bearcats eying another regional run

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Luck could be deciding factor in wide open field

By John Herndon

Handicapping the Eighth Region baseball race is easy in 2011.
Just throw about 12 names in a hat an pick one.

The hard part is getting the right one.

That is how wide open the quest for the top of the region is this year after a decade of dominance by Anderson County and Shelby County, the schools that have combined for nine of the 11 regional titles since 2000.

Don’t look now, but Anderson, considered a bit of a dark horse before the season started, is making a stretch run into contention. The Bearcats, who have advanced to eight of the last 11 regional finals, winning four, have shown in recent weeks they might have what it takes to win a region that is not quite as strong as it has been in recent years.

The Bearcats have the offensive firepower to navigate a five-game win-or-go-home circuit and usually have defense good enough to support those bats swung by Logan Woodside, Travis Phillips, Landon Case and Michael Harley.

The key word is usually.

When Anderson has been good in the field, the Bearcats are very good. The team is solid up the middle and there is sufficient speed in the outfield to take away extra bases.

Anderson’s biggest question mark, like most teams in the region, is pitching. Namely, do the Bearcats have enough and do they have a real hammer that will nail down a win against a team just as good as they are.

Anderson has gotten strong performances of late from Case, Steven Watts and Michael Harley and conventional wisdom says a team has to have three strong pitchers to get through a regional tournament.
Either a 3-deep starting rotation or some tremendous luck in the draw or a rainout – see Anderson’s 2003 regional champs for details – is needed to get through a region.

Consistency is the key. If Anderson gets solid pitching and defense every time out, the Bearcats will be a tough out. The Bearcats showed that last week with a lethargic performance against Western Hills followed by impressive wins over Franklin County and South Oldham.

But if one were to pick a regional favorite going into next week’s district tournaments, pre-season favorite Oldham County or Collins would be good choices.

At 15-9 after last week’s games, Oldham has not put up the kind of record expected of a prohibitive favorite, but the Colonels have played a strong schedule and have been consistent all season.

Collins, a first-year school, starts the only two holdovers from last year’s regional champions at Shelby. But the Titans do not have a weak link in the batting order and can score in a hurry. Pitching depth might be Collins’ undoing, though. Collins, at 16-4, has the best record in the region and scored a 14-2 win over Oldham last week.

One cannot overlook Carroll County, a small school that has pulled some monumental upsets in recent regional tournaments. The Panthers were 17-7, but having enough pitching to navigate the region is the question.

Henry County could be a sleeper. The Wildcats were 14-8 through games of the weekend and have a victory over Anderson on their resume. North Oldham has also quietly built a 15-9 record.

With high school pitching rules dictating how often a pitcher can work, much will depend on the luck of the draw and rainouts. For example, will Anderson coach L.W. Barnes go with Landon Case, his top hurler on the season, in next week’s elimination game at Spencer County or will he roll the dice and gamble with someone else?
Those kinds of decisions will be made around the region over the next two weeks.

And who ends up with the big trophy will be anyone’s guess.