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LOUISVILLE - So much for doing things the easy way. In the end, it was head coach Troy Hayes who gladly accepted the ice-cold water bath after his Blue Lick 14-year-old All-Stars celebrated their first state title.
The baseball team had to survive a tight first game and then had to overcome a 3-0 deficit to win the West Kentucky title at Germantown on Monday evening.
Going through the tournament without a loss, it would take two victories by Owensboro/Daviess County on Monday. For much of the evening, it appeared that unlikely task might happen.
In the end, however, Blue Lick came back to win 5-3 and earn a trip to the Ohio Valley regional tournament in Connersville, Ind., starting on Thursday.
“This is great,” Hayes said after the victory. “These kids were just unbelievable.”
The victory capped off a magical run for Blue Lick.
The team started play with victories over Hart County, Henderson County, Owensboro/Daviess County and Warren County to reach the championship game.
To add drama to the mix, Blue Lick was supposed to play the finale on Sunday evening. However, since Owensboro/Daviess County had to play two games on Sunday to come out of the loser’s bracket, officials postponed the title game.
After figuring out a time to play on Monday, Germantown ballpark offered a field for Monday. All Blue Lick had to do was win the opener and start packing for Indiana.
“We came out tight, real tight,” Hayes said of the opener.
After falling behind, Blue Lick battled back but fell 7-5.
With that done, it was a do-or-die game to follow.
“I told our guys to do what we do best - go out and play good defense,” said Hayes. “Our pitching and defense have carried us all season.”
In the end, it was pitching depth that won the game for Blue Lick.
Jacob Kelly got the start for Blue Lick and was sailing through three innings. In the fourth, the lefty saw a pop fly drop in the infield for a single and then walked the next two batters. One run scored on a wild pickoff throw from the catcher to third base.
However, a quick recovery by Ryan Henson on a wild pitch allowed Kelly to tag out another runner to end the threat.
Leading 1-0, Owensboro came back two score two more runs in the fifth inning.
Once again, a pair of walks, an RBI grounder and an error led two another pair of runs. Further disaster was averted when a runner was caught trying to reach third base.
Blue Lick went to work in the fifth inning. In scoring five runs, the victors had just one hit but also worked six walks and received an error.
Trenton Hill and Matthew Harris both walked. Daulton Walls followed with an RBI single to center field.
Keaton Reitz and Logan Wyatt both walked, forcing in another run. Kelly then hit a ball which was misplayed by the second baseman for another run. Nick Hayes, who picked up the victory in relief, then walked and Henson’s free pass plated the fifth run.
With a little drama still remaining, Hayes allowed a two-out single to centerfield in the seventh. That was followed by a hit batter. That brought up the tying run. However, with the outfield playing deep to prevent the double, a line drive was caught by Walls in deep center-field to secure the 5-3 victory.
As the innings piled up on the Owensboro pitching staff, Hayes said his words of wisdom was to take a few pitches and may them work.
Using four pitchers, Owensboro/Daviess County finally ran out of options.
“They made him work,” Hayes said of the strategy. “We got some walks and made them count.”
For a team that went out without much noise last season, Hayes knew he had something different in 2012. Adding several players to the All-Star squad, Hayes said it was a totally different situation this season.
“We have a lot more depth,” said Hayes. “And we had two pitchers who didn’t even throw in the state tournament who are ready.”
In reaching the regional tournament, Hayes said he is full of confidence about his team’s abilities.
“We’re not settled with this,” Hayes said of the state title. “We think we have a team which could make some noise.”
The chemistry is good and players seemed to be relaxed in the second game, according to Hayes.
He wants the experience to be fun but the top focus is winning a regional title.
“We think we have a team that can win this thing,” said Hayes. “We know we can compete.”
The Blue Lick 14 All-Star team included Wyatt Blevins, Austin Harding, Michael Harris, Nick Hayes, Ryan Henson, Trenton Hill, Jacob Kelly, Kevin McKnight, Chase Morrison, Dylan Napper, Keaton Reitz, Austin Trammell, Daulton Walls and Logan Wyatt.
Head coach Troy Hayes is assisted by Eddie Blevins and Jeff Walls.
The team advances to Connersville, Ind., which is about two hours and 47 minutes away, according to Mapquest.
Pool play opens on Thursday with Blue Lick playing Central Indiana at 10 a.m. and at 5:30 p.m. against Eastern Kentucky. On Friday, Blue Lick won’t play until 6:30 p.m. against Michigan.
All 12 teams will be seeded and return for a single-elimination tournament on Saturday. The semifinals will be played on Sunday with the final later that afternoon. The winner advances to the World Series in Murray, Utah.