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HODGENVILLE - After allowing six runs, all with two outs, the Bullitt East Chargers find themselves behind the eight ball in the Section 3 Semi-State Tournament against Elizabethtown.
In a game of key hits, it was the Panthers that made all the right moves as they rolled to a 6-1 decision in the best-of-three series at LaRue County High School. The two teams will meet again on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the second game.
Bullitt East missed too many scoring opportunities early in the game as the red and gold stranded six runners between the second and fourth innings including leaving the bases loaded in the fourth with the score tied at 1-1.
The fourth inning included a pair of strike-outs, but Josh Whitmer was able to force a walk and then Cory Johnson and Tyler Downs had back-to-back singles to load the bases with the top of the line-up coming to the plate.
Matt Bowles got his bat on the ball and pulled the ball to the right side of the infield. It appeared that the ball would find a hole only to be stabbed by Elizabethtown second baseman Joe Raub as he dove to his left. He rolled over and made the toss to first baseman Jake Goodman just a step ahead of Bowles.
Elizabethtown moved ahead with a run in the bottom of the fourth. The Panthers then blew the game open with four runs in the bottom of the sixth.
“We are in a hole,” Bullitt East head coach Jeff Bowles said after the game.
“I think they had a good game plan,” the coach said of Elizabethtown, the state’s 14th ranked team. “Let’s give them credit. We didn’t take our at-bats like we have been. We were sort of on our heels.”
Elizabethtown started senior pitcher Zach Riney and he allowed six hits before being lifted for Chase Greenwell after Whitmer singled to open the sixth inning. Greenwell got six straight outs including four strike-outs for his fifth save of the season.
“They were more aggressive in most phases of the game than us,” Bowles said. “We left too many runners in scoring position in the early innings. We didn’t bunt it well early.”
Still, Bullitt East had a chance to break the game open before Raub made the big play.
“He absolutely made a nice play,” the Charger coach said. “That would have given us the lead. You have to respond to that. You can’t get down. People will make great plays at this level.”
The Panthers scored the first run of the game in the first inning. Bullitt East starting pitcher Brandon Alphin got two quick outs, but then walked Greenwell before catcher Michael Thomas singled. Goodman followed with a single to score Greenwell.
Bullitt East rallied in the top of the third frame. Bowles drew a one-out walk and was sacrificed to second by Jimmy Hoffman. Alphin brought Bowles home with a single.
But that was all the offense that the Chargers could generate. All six of the team’s hits were singles and two of those were by Alphin. Besides Bowles scoring from second, the only Bullitt East runner to reach third base was Whitmer in the fourth.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Panthers took the lead for good. Thomas, the clean-up hitter, doubled to open the inning, but then Alphin recorded a pair of strike-outs. He was ahead in the count before Terry Jones singled home the run.
Still, Bullitt East was in the game when Elizabethtown came to the plate in the bottom of the sixth. It was 2-1 and the Chargers had the top of the line-up ready to come to the plate in the seventh.
Alphin quickly got two fly-ball outs, but then walked pinch-hitter Cameron Cochran who was batting in the number nine spot. That opened the flood gates.
Carter Elmore, who was inserted back into his original spot after Cochran walked, stole second. Lead-off hitter Beau Bouthilette then singled to right field and Elmore beat the throw to the plate.
A wild pitch and a walk to Riney put runners on the corners. Greenwell then lifted a ball high into the air to right field. At first, right fielder Zack McCarthy seemed to have the ball insight, but it went above the lights and the right-fielder lost sight of it. The ball fell ten yards to McCarthy’s right. With two outs, the runners were moving and both scored before Greenwell ended up on third.
A wild pitch then allowed Greenwell to score the final run of the game.
Elizabethtown had just one more hit than the Chargers, seven to six, but the Panthers had two doubles and the triple. Alphin walked six batters and hit another.
“At any level of baseball those (walks) will come back to haunt you,” Bowles said.
Bullitt East had scored 27 runs in its three previous games.
“This game was not indicative of what we can do,” Bowles said of his Sixth Region champions. “We now have to have somebody ready to step up.”
Elizabethtown is now 29-10 this season.
Bullitt East will have to improve on its school record 28 wins on Wednesday if it plans to play on Thursday.
Elizabethtown has now beaten Bullitt East in two meetings this season having also won 3-2 back in the Louisville Invitational Tournament.
“That’s a quality baseball team,” Bowles said. “They earned what they got. We have to come back now on Wednesday and work to play on Thursday.”