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Encore!

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Bearcats hold off Shelby, repeat as regional champs

By John Herndon

SHELBYVILLE – Kenny Chesney might have brought the house down singing about sexy tractors Saturday night but his encore could not have been any better than Anderson County baseball.

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The Bearcats repeated as Eighth Region champions, roaring to a 7-1 lead then holding on to beat host Shelby County, 8-5, in the regional final last Wednesday night. The Bearcats became the first Anderson County team to ever repeat as regional champion in a single-class sport.

It was also the second time Anderson had beaten its arch-rival in seven days.

But this one was much closer than the 13-4 romp in the 30th District final.

What had looked to be a walk in the park suddenly turned into a nail-biter as Shelby scored a pair of unearned runs in the sixth inning, then scored two more in the seventh.

Anderson right-hander Luke Hawkins came on in relief with the bases loaded, no out and the tying run at the plate. When second baseman Jordan Alves hauled in the final out, a pop up from Shelby’s Taylor Boone, the bases were still loaded with Boone representing the winning run.

“He told me, ‘Finish the job,’” Hawkins said of coach L.W. Barnes’ instructions.

Despite not having his best stuff, Anderson starter Jacob Brown had shut Shelby down for five innings and even after Alves committed two errors leading to runs in the sixth, things looked fine for Bearcats heading into Shelby’s final at-bat.

Jon Collins, Shelby’s ninth-place hitter, led off but Brown hit him with a pitch. Only after Shelby’s all-state outfielder, Jarred Clarkson, drove in a run with a single, did Barnes make the switch to Hawkins, a senior.

“We knew we were going with Hawkins in relief around the fifth inning. We just didn’t know when we’d need him,” Barnes said.

“After Brown hit the first batter in the seventh, I should have pulled him, but I had so much confidence in Jacob’s ability to finish it that it put everyone in a tough situation, especially Hawkins, and I’m sure Luke’s entire family and the entire Bearcat family.”

To make matters more difficult, all-region performer Eric Standafer, who carries a stick about as big as his 6-foot-5 frame, stood at the plate representing the tying run.

Hawkins struck Standafer out and Anderson fans exhaled a bit.

“That one gave me a lot of confidence,” Hawkins said of the strikeout.

“Once he got that first out striking out Standafer, I felt much better,” Barnes said. “That was the biggest strikeout in Hawkins career and I’m sure probably the most pressure-filled moment in his entire baseball career.”

Hawkins did make one mistake when he nicked five-hitter John Hunter to force in the game’s final run. Hawkins settled down to strike out Matthew Purdom, an all-district selection, and get Boone to end the game.

“I was trying to push him back (off the plate) and came inside,” Hawkins said of hitting Hunter, which forced in Tyler Tipton and drew Shelby within three.

When Alves hauled in the final out, the Bearcats celebrated, knowing they were two wins from their ultimate goal of the state tournament at Lexington’s Applebee’s Park.

The Bearcats left no question that they were the deserving champion. They won all three regional tournament games by at least three runs. Along the way they got the best of the pitcher widely considered the region’s best (North Oldham’s Jason Sterrett in the opener), routed a nice Gallatin County team and defeated Shelby for the third time this season.

Through the post-season, little had gone wrong for the Bearcats until the sixth and seventh innings of the championship game. Anderson was also in the position of the blind draw making the Bearcats the visiting team after being home for the first four post-season games.

Barnes, however, asserted that being the visitor was not all bad. “Being the visitor was great the first six innings,” he said. “Beginning the game with three runs was huge for us. Now in the bottom of the seventh, it was a different story.”

Anderson led from the outset as Jeremy Turpin milked a one-out walk from Shelby starter Corey Williams, who took the loss.

Turpin came home when Brown tripled to right-center. Brown scored when Jacob Russell reached on an error, then Russell stole second and scored on Hawkins line drive up the middle.

Shelby came back with a run without the benefit of a hit in the bottom of the inning.

Nick Hamblen was hit by a pitch, moved around to third on a wild pitch and passed ball, then scored when Brown was called for a balk. But Brown got out of things by striking out Clarkson and Standafer.

Brown, who had been magnificent a week before in the 30th District championship game, struggled with his control from the outset. While he ended with 10 strikeouts and only one walk, Brown was obviously not as sharp.

“My curve was not working as good,” he said. “I thought they were sitting on the curve ball (which had been his dominant pitch seven days earlier) and I was able to get them with the fastball.”

Brown admitted to some early struggles. “I was slinging it instead of pitching,” he said with a grin.

But after the first inning, Brown cruised, not allowing a runner past second until two were out in the sixth.

“Brown is a ‘gamer,’” Barnes said. “Gamers rise to the occasion. Brown’s curveball was devastating all night.. His ability to consistently throw 2-0 and 3-1 curveballs for strikes was the greatest asset he showed.

“Coach Chris Copenhaver called three beautiful games during the tournament and had a scouting report on Shelby that placed everyone in the right positions. When it comes to that stuff, I have all the trust and faith in the world in Chris.”

Meanwhile, Brown’s teammates were making sure of a repeat. The Bearcats reached Williams for two more in the fourth when freshman Landon Case doubled Hawkins home, then scored himself on Alves’ two-bagger.

An inning later, Jacob Russell started the celebration, driving Ben Glassner’s fastball over the 360-foot mark in right-center.

In the sixth, Anderson got a scare when Glassner hit Alves in the head, sending the second baseman do the ground. After being examined on the field, Alves returned to action, scoring from second on Brown’s fielder’s choice.

The Bearcats got some insurance in the seventh when T.J. Drury singled, then pinch runner Shawn Bryant scored when Clarkson lost Fogle’s fly ball in the lights. The apparent routine fly dropped for a double.

It turned out to be huge.

“I give Shelby and their staff all the credit in the world for not giving in and quitting,” Barnes said. “They all showed a tremendous amount of heart and that comes from the top down. Bart Roettger and his staff do a great job over there and I greatly respect him and his program.”

Yet, even with things looking bleak in the seventh, Anderson had no doubts.

“None,” Turpin said.

“Our guys are very confident,” Barnes added. This group of young men has been a blessing to this coaching staff. We sure are going to miss these eight seniors. They believe they can win every game and expect to be at Applebee’s.”

The last time an Eighth Region team made it to Lexington was two years ago when Shelby went all the way to the state championship game.

With the top seven teams in the final poll all being eliminated in district or regional play, Anderson feels it has a chance to do Shelby one better with a state championship.

“We won’t be satisfied until we win five more games,” Brown said.

No encore would be needed then.

E-mail John Herndon at jpherndon@theandersonnews.com.