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When the high school baseball season opened back in March, few thought the Eighth Region championship game would shape up as it has.
Everyone should have known better.
Anderson County vs. Shelby County.
Or as they say from Graefenburg and all points west, Shelby County vs. Anderson County.
First pitch is set for 7 p.m., Thursday night at Carroll County High School. Tickets are $5.
They are the two programs that have dominated Eighth Region baseball since 2000. Anderson has four regional championships since then. Shelby has the same number.
Thursday, they meet again, for one last time.
It will be the fifth time since 2000 that the long-time rivals have met in the regional final and the second consecutive year that the regional prize has come to this. The previous four regional final match-ups are split down the middle with Anderson winning last year, 8-5.
“I knew we had the talent, but it was a matter of getting it to mesh together,” Anderson coach L.W. Barnes said after his team beat Oldham County, 15-5, Wednesday night.
In the team meeting following that win, the Anderson coaches were heard telling the Bearcats that all they have accomplished – think a 21-12 record against arguably the toughest schedule Barnes has ever put together – is now down to one game.
That Shelby has beaten Anderson twice really does not matter now. Nor does the fact that Anderson has won the last two regional championships matter.
Or the idea that the regional final will be the definitive last game between the schools as we know them. As most fans know, Shelby will be splitting with the new Collins High School opening on the west side of town in August.
That is for the fans to talk about, but it still comes down to one game.
Shelby won the first one, 16-6, then defeated the Bearcats, 5-3 in eight innings last Wednesday. But as Joe Garagiola used to say, “Baseball is a funny game.”
The ball is round but takes bad hops. For some unexplained reason, some players do better one day than another. You can't pinpoint it why you go 140 years and have 18 perfect games over that time and suddenly are one blown call away from having three in a month.
A week ago, Anderson tied things after being down to the last strike. The tying run got on when he was hit by a pitch.
You just never know what will happen.
On paper, it would appear Shelby (25-10) would be a favorite. The Rockets have seven players who started on last year's regional runner-up team and can score runs in bunches. Anderson starts a pair of freshmen and only one of the pitchers available Thursday, Jacob Russell, has been on the hill much before this year. Even Russell had not gotten the call in big games.
But Anderson is infinitely better than the team Shelby defeated 16-6 on April 30.
“We seem to have just gotten better,” Anderson catcher Matt Fogle said Wednesday.
It should be a battle Thursday night.
The most obvious thing to look for is who does get the call to start. After beating Oldham, Barnes said he really was not sure who would get the call for the Bearcats. It could be Russell, who just did not have anything Monday before giving way to Michael Harley, who got the win against Simon Kenton.
Harley is also available. He would seem to be a logical choice since he gave Shelby some problems in the district final.
Another possibility would be senior Hunter Coffey, who has not thrown against Shelby this year.
As for Shelby's starter, the Rockets' most consistent hurler, Corey Williams, pitched against North Oldham on Wednesday and is not available. Barnes was unsure of who else might be able to throw but possibilities include Taylor Boone and Eric Standafer.
Another thing to be aware of is the short fence at Carroll County's Panther Field. It is 310-330-350-325 and 300 feet from home plate going from the left field line to right field. Shelby has some power and that could be a factor.
On the other hand, Anderson has been very aggressive through the tournament and has shown the ability to manufacture runs.
"I'm so proud of our guys; it's been a pretty crazy year with this mixture of youth and upper classmen, but it's turned into a very rewarding season," Barnes said Thursday morning.
Last week's district final was an instant classic.
The regional championship game could be another.
E-mail John Herndon at firstname.lastname@example.org.