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HODGENVILLE - You have to love it when baseball players make the most of a second chance.
The post-season in 2009 has been filled with Bullitt East players not hanging their heads after making miscues in early situations. They kept their heads up and when the opportunity came around for redemption they were prepared.
There isn’t a coach alive that hasn’t told his players, normally more than once, that you can’t change the past, you can only affect the future. Bullitt East players have done that consistently over the past two weeks.
First, in the championship game of the Sixth Region tournament, Charger third baseman Josh Whitmer made a throwing error against Butler in the top of the eighth inning. The runner eventually stole second but was left stranded in a 6-6 ball game.
An inning later, Whitmer went to the plate with two outs and blasted a home run deep into the night to give Bullitt East a 7-6 victory in nine innings.
This past Friday, in the semi-finals of the Section III Baseball Tournament at LaRue County, Bullitt East was down one game to none in the best of three series against Elizabethtown. In the first inning of game two, Bullitt East first baseman Justin Jones made a bad throw to third base trying to complete a double play. The ball sailed into left field and the first run of the ball game scored for the Panthers.
Elizabethtown went on to build a 4-0 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth inning. Bullitt East rallied with a run and after the first out of the inning, the next two batters walked and then the second run scored on Zack McCarthy’s single.
That brought Jones to the plate. Against Elizabethtown’s Chase Greenwell, who had allowed just one earned run during the season, Jones smacks a ball over the center field fence, driving home three runs and putting the Chargers on top 5-4. The red and gold scored three more times in that inning and won the game 8-4, snatching all of the momentum to the Charger dug-out.
Then there was the story of Brandon Alphin. True, Alphin didn’t pitch badly in the first game of the series against Elizabethtown, but he was still the losing pitcher. He did walk six and half of those that he walked came around to score.
Good fortune smiled on Alphin when rain washed out play on Wednesday and Thursday. Matt Bowles kept the team alive with a gutsy pitching performance on Friday and, because of the delays, Alphin was eligible to pitch again on Saturday.
The junior was brilliant on Saturday, allowing three hits in Bullitt East’s 6-0 championship game victory. He walked just three this time and only one runner reached third base as he faced just 25 batters to get the 21 outs.
A Day to Remember
Saturday was a day that the eight seniors on the Bullitt East roster will never forget, and not just because they won the first Sectional title in school history.
Just five hours before game time, Bullitt East held graduation exercises at Broadbent Arena at the Kentucky State Fairgrounds in Louisville. Normally for a senior, the party starts the minute the mortar board is thrown in the air.
But the day was just getting started. The rest of the Bullitt East baseball team sat as a group at one end of Broadbent Arena and at the end of the ceremony at about 4:45, everyone raced for a waiting bus. The bus headed to Elizabethtown where the team took about 45 minutes of batting practice at an indoor facility.
The bus then headed to Hodgenville and the championship game.
While graduation was memorable, it was overshadowed by baseball.
“That was no problem. We were just waiting for graduation to be over,” senior Zack McCarthy said of the first event being a distraction for the second. “Every high school kid will get to go to graduation, but only a few get to play in a semi-state baseball game.”
Senior Justin Jones was very honest.
“I’m not going to lie,” he said with a smile after the baseball game. “At graduation I was only thinking about baseball. When I got on the bus after graduation I could tell that everyone wanted to win. We had to win.”
The day before, head coach Jeff Bowles had said that he felt his situation was better on Saturday than it had been for Elizabethtown on Friday.
On Friday, the second game had started at 2 p.m. so that it would be over in time for the Panther players to get back to school for their graduation service at 8 p.m.
Bowles felt it was an advantage that his players would have graduation behind them and they could concentrate fully on baseball. It might have been a little coach-speak at the time, but it sure did come true over those two days.
After all the celebrating in Hodgenville, the seniors returned to Mount Washington for Project Graduation at Bullitt East. The team picked up a police escort once in Mount Washington that led them back to school.
The seniors could then enjoy Project Graduation because they would not practice on Sunday.
Rain, Rain Go Away
LaRue County High School did a fine job hosting the Section III event, but there was no way that games could have been fairly played on Wednesday and Thursday.
With the two graduations set for the weekend, everyone wanted to get all three games in by Thursday. Well, everyone except Mother Nature. Anyone who made the drive down on Wednesday and got caught in the torrential downpour knew that no game could be played that night.
After the rain-out on Wednesday, they were going to try to play a doubleheader on Thursday with games at 5 and 8 p.m. By early afternoon on Thursday the first game was canceled and at 5 p.m. on Thursday the second game was scratched. The schedule that then did finally happen was set.
The games played on Friday and Saturday were as fairly scheduled as was possible under the circumstances. There are rare times when major sporting events (like the state track championships) interfere with graduations, but those times should be the exception, not the rule. It was the right move to schedule baseball games around the two graduations.
Games of this importance should be decided under the best conditions possible so I’m glad they didn’t ‘force’ games to be played under bad conditions just to get those done by Thursday. By 2 p.m. on Friday the facility at LaRue County was as good as was necessary.