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HEBRON ESTATES - It's hard to believe that a team that has a 32-6 record and has recent experience playing in the state tournament would be flying under the radar.
But that could be the case for the Bullitt East Chargers.
And that's exactly the way head coach Jeff Bowles likes it.
Bullitt East defeated the host North Bullitt Eagles 10-2 on Wednesday to earn the school's ninth straight District 24 baseball title. Both teams will advance to the Sixth Region tournament, starting Monday at St. Xavier High School.
"I'm OK with being under the radar," said Bowles, smiling as he looked at a Tweet which downplayed the chances of either Bullitt County school being able to unseat teams like Pleasure Ridge Park and Butler. "This motivates the kids to prove them wrong."
On Wednesday, the Chargers did little wrong against an Eagle squad which was playing its best baseball of the season.
The Eagles got to starter Jonathan Recktenwald in the first inning. Anthony Kennedy lined a triple down the right-field line and scored on Tyler Lloyd's single.
However, Bullitt East came back and capitalized on an error, a hit batter and three singles to plate three runs. Tyler Minogue reached on an error and Austin Money and Hunter Wood each singled to load the bases.
Alex Richardson's fielder's choice drove in the tying run and Michael Faul singled home the next two runners for a 3-1 lead.
Eagle starter Mitchell Hutchison settled down but Recktenwald got stronger after the first inning.
The Chargers would bust the game open in the third against Hutchison and reliever Josh Exton.
Wood walked and Richardson singled. Trevor Gonzalez had an RBI single and Faul's sacrifice bunt was misplayed by the pitcher to load the bases.
Adam Howell's RBI single would result in Exton's arrival on the mound.
With the bases loaded, Josh Stearns would bring in a run with a single and Colton Maupin's fielder's choice plated the seventh run.
North Bullitt tried to mount a comeback in the fourth when Cody Stinnett doubled and Exton walked. However, Stinnett was caught at third on a missed bunt attempt.
The Eagles would score their only other run in the fifth.
Kennedy reached on an error and Clayton Kelly singled. Stinnett's single off the third-base bag would score Lloyd.
The final three runs for the Chargers came in the sixth inning.
Maupin led off with a single and Minogue walked. Money's sacrifice bunt advanced the runners and Wood was intentionally walked to load the bases.
Richardson followed with an RBI walk and Gonzalez was hit by a pitch to bring in another run.
Brett Hatfield's fielder's choice plated the final run.
"They keep coming up big," Bowles said of his 32-6 squad. "There's a lot of competition and camaraderie. Every game, somebody else comes up big."
In selecting Recktenwald to take the ball, Bowles said he had options. A lot of Chargers had quality innings on the hill this season but the junior's recent performance against Male proved that the right-hander wanted to pitch in the big game.
"He's very reliable," said Bowles. "He really didn't have his best stuff tonight but he battled."
Recktenwald had seven strikeouts in going to 9-1 on the season.
For years, Bowles has commented that the 24th District is the most competitive in the area. With North Bullitt playing its final game on its field, he knew the Eagles would be emotional and come out quick.
Coming back and answering the first Eagle run was a key, said Bowles.
"We wanted to get off to a good start," said Bowles. "North Bullitt is a very good team."
He would savor an opportunity to play North Bullitt once again - in the regional final.
"We believe we can make it back to Lexington," said Bowles. "But so can that team on the other side of the field."
For the Eagles, the loss was a tough one but head coach Brian Wise said it should not diminish the improvement of the team over the final weeks of the season.
"We wanted to get off to a good start and we did," said Wise. "Bullitt East is just a very, very good team."
Getting behind to any team is difficult but Wise said it is especially hard when it is someone like Bullitt East.
"They will keep coming at you," said Wise. "And their pitcher had a good game and then they bring in a lefty (Bradley Johnson) who throws very well. Coach Bowles has a very good team."
But Wise said he also has a good squad and all the talk after the game was about making a strong showing in the regional tournament.
"We still believe we have a very good team and we can beat anyone on any given day," said Wise, whose team is now 20-18 on the year.
From his eyes, it was a matter of taking too many early fastballs and not being able to get the clutch hit.
With 10 strikeouts on Wednesday, Wise said that is not a recipe for success.
"There's a lot of teams not playing on Monday and we're still in it," said Wise, who would also love an opportunity to face Bullitt East a third time this season - in the regional final at the University of Louisville Patterson Field.
Regional play begins on Monday at St. Xavier. Both teams will play with North Bullitt playing a district winner and Bullitt East playing a runner-up.
Look on www.pioneernews.net over the weekend for the schedules.
The All-District team consisted of: Cody Powell and Jasen Davis of Bullitt Central; Cody Stinnett, Anthony Kennedy and Clayton Kelly of North Bullitt; Trevor Gonzalez, Alex Richardson, Austin Money and Tyler Minogue of Bullitt East; and Austin Lyle and John Masterson of Fairdale. Minogue was selected as the MVP of the district tournament. Southern coaches did not nominate anyone for the All-District team.