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FAIRDALE - Winning never gets old.
That’s good for the Bullitt East baseball program as the red and gold picked up a sixth straight district baseball title on Thursday when they beat North Bullitt 9-1. It was the fourth consecutive win in the 24th District after the team won the last two titles in the old 29th District.
This year’s senior class is the third to play for head coach Jeff Bowles and to never have lost a district tournament game.
“That is something we take a lot of pride in and talk about,” Bowles said after the title celebration. “Now we want to expand our horizon (in the regional tournament). You are never finished.”
This was the second straight year the Chargers and Eagles had met in the district final.
During the regular season, North Bullitt had beaten Bullitt East 1-0 in a classic pitching duel between the Eagles’ Matt Wagner and the Chargers’ Matt Bowles. Neither one of those pitchers was on the mound Thursday after both had pitched in the semi-finals.
This time, Bullitt East started junior Brandon Alphin while North Bullitt went with senior Carter Sibley.
North Bullitt seemed to be in good shape when they scored a run in the top of the first, but the elation was short-lived. Bullitt East got two runs in the bottom of the first and then scored three more times in the second inning to take control. The Chargers scored at least one run in five of the six frames in which they came to the plate.
“It was really big that we answered after they got the first run,” Jeff Bowles said. “They got off to a good start and were emotional. They put it in play and then we responded with the bats. I’m very pleased with that.”
Alphin gave up three hits to North Bullitt in the first inning including an RBI single by Tyler Estep, but then allowed just one hit over the last six innings. The junior did walk three batters and hit another, but only one North Bullitt runner reached third base after the first inning.
The final numbers on Alphin showed the four hits and one earned run. He struck out four and walked three while leaving six batters stranded.
“I was a little excited,” the junior said of starting the game. “The only ball that was it hard was the one by Estep. I wasn’t worried. Then the game went on and I was fine.”
Having the Bullitt East offense behind him didn’t make giving up a single run seem too bothersome.
“I wasn’t too worried with the one run,” Alphin said with a smile. “I knew we could get that back. Our offense got it back quickly and gave us the lead.”
In the first, Sibley got off on the right foot, striking out Matt Bowles, but then he walked Jimmy Hoffman and Alphin. Hoffman stole a base and Sibley had two wild pitches, allowing Hoffman to score the first run.
Sibley got a second out by striking out Zack McCarthy, but Alphin’s courtesy runner scored on Josh Whitmer’s single.
Bullitt East kept the pedal to the metal in the second inning. With one out, Cory Johnson singled and then Tyler Downs faked a bunt and slapped the ball through the drawn in infield. Another wild pitch allowed Shane Valentine, who was running for Johnson, to score. After Bowles lined out, Hoffman belted a ball well over the left field fence to make it 5-0.
“It was a curve ball,” Hoffman recalled after the game. “It was a 2-2 count. I had fouled off a fastball and then there was a ball in the dirt. Then he hung the curve ball. I swung and it went out.
“I knew that I had hit it pretty good,” the senior said. “I wasn’t sure (it was gone) so I rushed out of the box.”
Hoffman moved to Bullitt County during his sophomore season and has played on three straight district championship teams.
“It never gets old,” he stated. “The coaches talk about it all the time. It’s fun.”
In the third, Bullitt East added a run when Robbie Gibson singled and then scored on a double by Justin Jones. In the fourth, Matt Bowles doubled and Hoffman singled. With two outs, McCarthy hit a ball that was fielded deep at third base. The throw to first was wild, allowing two more runs to score.
The final Bullitt East run scored in the sixth. Bowles and Hoffman singled and when a ball was not fielded at third base, Bowles and the third baseman got tangled up. Bowles was given home on the interference.
Six of the nine Bullitt East runs scored with two outs.
“That’s how you win, with clutch two out hits,” North Bullitt head coach Brian Wise said later. “They had a few key hits. They were better at the two out run. That was frustrating.
“It’s tough to win at this time of year with one run,” the coach added. “We have done that this year (three times), but that puts a lot of pressure on you.”
Wise knew that it would take more than one run to win this game.
“We knew they were going to score,” the coach said. “They are too good to be shut out twice. We thought we had to get five or six runs. It’s just disappointing they did so much with two outs.”
Often in the post-season coaches will use every pitcher on the staff, but Wise stayed with Sibley the whole game.
“We talked about it a couple of times,” the coach said of a pitching change. “We felt as long as he felt good that he gave us the best chance to get outs. It wasn’t like they were killing him. We were close to some scoreless innings a few times and they just had the big hits.”
Bullitt East finished with 11 hits in the game. Hoffman had three of those hits while Bowles had two hits.
Sibley finished with ten strike-outs.
Both Bullitt East and North Bullitt will advance to this week’s Sixth Region Tournament that starts on Monday at St. Xavier High School. The semi-finals and final will be played at Patterson Stadium at the University of Louisville.