First inning uprising sends East past South Laurel

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By Mike Farner

LEXINGTON - Everybody thinks it and dreams it, but nobody expects it to come true.

But the dreams did become true for the Bullitt East Chargers in the first round of the Forcht Bank/Kentucky State Baseball Tournament on Thursday when the red and gold sent 14 batters to the plate and scored ten runs in the first inning. It was smooth sailing from that point as Bullitt East beat South Laurel 16-5, advancing to Friday’s semi-finals against Owensboro.

Especially in a first round game when everyone has their best pitchers on the mound, you don’t expect to score like the Chargers did. Or have a team has many pitching problems as the Cardinals encountered.

The 16 runs were the most scored in a state tournament game since 1977.

The offensive uprising was not a first for the Chargers. The team had scored 16 runs or more in three previous games this season including a 21-run uprising against Atherton back on April 11.

But those games were not part of the state tournament.

Bullitt East chased South laurel starting pitcher Chris Adams after six batters and no outs. The second pitcher, Matthew Martin, faced just five batters, but did manage to get one out. The Cardinals didn’t get out of the jam until the third pitcher, Matthew Gilbert, got a fielder’s choice and a groundout to end the inning.

“We had a plan for it,” Bullitt East head coach Jeff Bowles said after the game was stopped after five innings. “We talked about what to do if it happened, but you never expect it.

“Before the last inning we told the guys to treat it like it was a 0-0 ball game,” the coach added. “We scored and it worked out for us.”

Bullitt East actually scored in three of the four innings in which they went to the plate. After the ten run first inning, the Chargers posted two runs in the third and then four more in the fourth to seal the victory.

While Bullitt East did a lot of good things at the plate, they also took advantage of some poor South Laurel pitching. The Cardinals walked seven batters in the first inning and hit two others. The Chargers had just three hits.

It was really a tough situation for the red and gold since Bowles had been preaching leading into the game for the team to be aggressive at the plate.

“We wanted to be aggressive, but that worked against us,” the coach said. “But our kids know a strike when they see it. We let them cause their own problems.”

Matthew Bowles started the bottom of the first with a single off Adams and then Jimmy Hoffman walked. Brandon Alphin followed that with a single that scored Bowles and when Alphin aggressively headed to second, Hoffman scored when the throw went to second.

Adams then walked Zack McCarthy and the third run followed when Justin Jones singled. That was actually the last hit for the Chargers in the inning. Adams was chased after he walked Josh Whitmer to load the bases.

Martin took the mound and could do no better. He walked both Robby Gibson and Cory Johnson to plate runs. The first out didn’t come until Tyler Downs, the number nine batter for the Chargers, hit the ball to the second baseman who threw home to get Whitmer.

With the bases still loaded, Martin walked both Bowles and Hoffman, ending his day on the mound. Gilbert was the next option and he hit Alphin to force home the eighth run. McCarthy then hit the ball to the second baseman who tossed it to the shortstop for the force at second, but the throw to first was wild as two runs scored on the play.

That made it 10-0 and the rest of the day was decided.

Bullitt East actually only had seven hits in the game. McCarthy added a single in the third frame and in the fourth, Downs had a bunt single  before Bowles singled to load the bases. Three runs scored on Alphin’s double to the wall as the junior finished with five runs driven in for the game.

Alphin then scored the last run when he raced all the way home from second on a wild pitch on a third strike when the throw to first was mishandled by the catcher.

Jeff Bowles didn’t think his team had an jitters heading into the program’s first trip to the state tournament.

“No, not really,” the said after the game. “It’s the same goofy group we’ve had all year. We were relaxed and ready to go.”

The Chargers got a strong pitching performance from Matt Bowles although that was pretty much lost in the offensive showing. With such a big early lead, there was no emphasis to bear down for Bowles who thrives on tough situations.

“I tried not to make it any different,” Bowles said of having the big lead. “We want to go into each inning thinking it is 0-0. I was having trouble with the strike zone, but we had plenty of offense.”

It was also tough to get up to speed because the first game of the tournament went ten innings before Owensboro beat Lawrence County 3-2. In addition, there was off and on rain and dark clouds in the area.

"It was a little iffy,” the junior said. “It wasn’t that tough.”

Because the first inning last so long, Bowles trotted down to the bullpen to throw to try and stay loose.

“I’ve actually done that a couple of times,” the pitcher said. “You do that when you have a lot of offense.”

Bullitt East warmed up two other pitchers for most of the game. Coach Bowles had the option of pulling his son after two innings and having him available the next day. Or, as it turned out, he could pitch five innings and still have innings left on Saturday.

“The plan was to go as far as we needed,” Matt Bowles said. “We got a win and that’s good.”

South Laurel finished with four hits in the game. Most of the damage the Cardinals did do came in the fourth frame. The only two hits came on singles to open the inning and the first run scored on a stolen base in a situation with runners on first and third. Bowles then walked a batter and hit one to load the bases.

The second run of the inning scored on a groundout. Another walk loaded the bases again before a strikeout. Bowles then hit another batter as South Laurel narrowed the gap to 12-4.

The Cardinals scored one run in the second and closed out with another run in the fifth, but they certainly never threatened the Chargers.