Slow start can’t keep East from 11th crown

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24th District Tournament

By Mike Farner

  FERN CREEK – A little burp in the first inning was quickly overcome on Wednesday as the Bullitt East Chargers rolled to an 11-2 victory over Fern Creek in the championship game of the 24th District Baseball Tournament, which the Tigers were hosting.

The win was the 11th consecutive district title for Bullitt East and head coach Jeff Bowles. As the veteran coach pointed out to his seniors after the game, they were in the first grade the last time the red and gold failed to win a district tournament.

There was just a momentary worry for the Chargers when senior pitcher Alex Ralph allowed Fern Creek to score twice in the top of the first inning. Bullitt East answered with a run in the bottom of the inning and then put the game away with six runs in the second inning.

Bullitt East scored at least one run in each of the first five innings as they pounded out 14 hits.

Ralph settled down after the first inning, recording ten straight outs before Fern Creek had a single in the fourth inning. After getting an out in the fifth inning, Bowles lifted Ralph for senior Chase Patton who worked the rest of the way.

“He started that way with Eastern last Saturday,” Bowles said of Ralph’s previous start. They scored twice in the first and then didn’t get another run. Today they had two early and then no more. Jacob (Bowles) helped last week and Chase today.”

The coach really didn’t feel any worry despite Fern Creek scoring first.

“In the first inning, no there wasn’t a problem,” Bowles noted. “If it was the fifth or sixth (inning) I would have been worried. We have enough leadership that we weren’t going to get rattled.”

Does the winning streak put any extra pressure on the players?

“We talk about it,” the coach pointed out. “You want to uphold the tradition. We’ve been in three different groupings of teams. There is no pressure, but something they aspire to do.”

Bullitt East had defeated Fern Creek 3-0 back on April 17.

In that first inning, the Tigers really didn’t hit the ball that hard. Fern Creek had three singles in the inning to load the bases and then hit a little roller down the third base line that turned into a fielder’s choice when Troy O’Brien opted to try to get the out at the bag and was a little late. Ralph then had a pitch get away that catcher Brayden Blair could not handle, allowing the second run to score.

Ralph then struck out the next two batters to end the uprising. From that point, Fern Creek had only two hits and only one runner reached second base.

Fern Creek starting pitcher Tyler Wilson struggled with the strike zone early, walking Blair and Zac Masden to open the game on nine pitches. After Patton moved the runners up a base by grounding out to first, Blair came home on a balk.

The second inning saw Bullitt East score six times on five hits off three different Fern Creek pitchers.

The big inning started with Jacob Bowles walking, forcing Wilson off the mound. Zac Ching then welcomed new pitcher Colton Hutzelman to the game with a double. Bowles then scored on a sacrifice fly by Jacob Moore and the Chargers moved ahead when Ching raced home on O’Brien’s ground-out to the shortstop.

Bullitt East kept the pressure on as Garrett Wilson then singled before Blair was hit by a pitch. Masden followed that with a single to score Wilson and another run scored when Patton singled. Ralph then reached when his ground ball was misplayed at shortstop. That opened the door for Bowles and his single scored two more runners to make it 7-1.

In the third inning, Bullitt East scored when O’Brien tripled and then came home on a safety squeeze by Wilson. The Chargers added on insurance in the fourth inning with consecutive singles by Masden, Patton, Ralph and Bowles. The final run scored in the fifth inning when Blair doubled and later scored on a two-out single by Ralph.

Bullitt East finished with 14 hits in the game including two hits each from Masden, Patton, Ralph, Bowles and Ching.

The win moved Bullitt East into the Sixth Region Tournament which will start on Monday with the Chargers playing host to Holy Cross, a team they beat 7-6 a month ago.

All-Tournament Team

After the game, the 24th District All-Tournament team was announced with four Bullitt East players being honored. That Charger group included Patton, Blair, Masden and Ching. Also on the honor team were Fern Creek’s Timmy Tungate, Brain Underwood and Evan Flener. Joining those players were Jeffersontown’s Grant Lawson and Whitefield Academy’s Nathan Getzin.