HEBRON ESTATES - With a final week to go in the regular season, Brian Wise and his staff is still looking for some answers.
With injuries to starting shortstop Clayton Kelly and catcher Cody Stinnett, Wise has been juggling his North Bullitt Eagle lineup.
While other teams have settled into on their starting nine, Wise is still tinkering with the right combination of hitting and fielding as the Eagles will enter district play next week as the number two seed.
In the district semifinals, it will be a rematch of Wednesday’s clash against Southern. A victory last week would have salted away the top seed. A loss would mean that the Eagles would have to win a tiebreaker to be seeded second.
Wednesday’s game in Okolona turned out to be typical of the season - good pitching and a failure to get the big play at the right moment. The result was a 4-3 loss to the Trojans.
“The Southern game is probably as big a rivalry for our kids as Bullitt East or Bullitt Central,” said Wise. “So many of them have played with and against each other for years.”
The visitors jumped on top on the third inning. Tyler Shewmaker hit a two-out double and T.J. Barr walked. Cody Montgomery followed with an RBI double but pinch-runner Jesse King was out at the plate trying to score.
Barr was sailing on the mound allowing just one hit through four innings. However, the home team would plate three runs in the fifth.
A sacrifice bunt and a single followed an error. With runners on second and third, Wise said the instructions was to not throw catcher Jeff Fortwengler anything too good to hit. Unfortunately, the senior catcher was able to drill a hit pitch down the left-field line for a two-run double. The Campbellsville signee would later score on a single.
Reed Padgett brought the Eagles to within 3-2 with a solo home run in the sixth. The Eagles had the bases loaded with one out but a strikeout and a pop-out ended the threat.
Southern would push across the final, and deciding run, in the sixth. Barr hit the leadoff batter, who was sacrificed to second and then scored on a single.
In the seventh, North Bullitt threatened again. Montgomery reached on an error and Padgett hit an RBI double. J.R. Belt relieved Cody Baker on the mound and issued a walk to Mitchell Hutchison. However, a strikeout ended the game.
“You’ve got to find a way to win the close games,” said Wise, whose team lost its seventh one-run game of the year. “We can’t expect our pitchers to go out there and only give up 3-4 runs. T.J. pitched another good game and we’ve just got to score more runs. We hit the ball hard but it was right at people.”
Wise credited Baker for pitching a strong game and being able to get out of numerous jams.
With the loss, Bullitt East, Southern and North Bullitt all finished 3-1. Bullitt East won the tiebreaker and the district’s top seed.
(On Thursday, North Bullitt rebounded with a victory over Bullitt Central. See accompanying story.)
Wise was pleased that his Eagles went on the road to avenge one of its earlier one-run losses against Nelson County.
Jared Abell overcame an early 2-0 deficit to collect the victory with Evan Bickett closing out the 9-5 game in relief.
Down 2-0, North Bullitt evened the score in the second. Marcel Hull walked and Reed Padgett continued his torrid hitting with an RBI double. He would score on Hutchison’s sacrifice fly.
In the third, Montgomery, Hull and Padgett hit consecutive singles and Hutchison had another RBI on a fielder’s choice.
Shewmaker doubled to lead off the fifth and Barr bunted him to third. Montgomery followed with an RBI single.
Nelson County would come back to tie the game at 5-5 in the fifth but the visitors came right back with three of their own in the sixth.
With two outs, Hull was hit by a pitch and Padgett’s RBI single scored the tiebreaking run. Hutchison reached on an error and Anthony Kennedy walked. Jesse King hit an RBI double.
The final Eagle run came with two outs. Montgomery and Hull singled and Padgett drove home another run with a single and the final 9-5 margin.
Wise was pleased with the season-high 17 hits.
“We played really well,” said Wise. “Reed is seeing it very well right now. He swings a very good bat.”
The sophomore was six for eight against Bullitt Central and Nelson County.
The Eagles got an opportunity to see how a top 10 team in Kentucky plays on Saturday afternoon. Central Hardin completely dominated North Bullitt 18-2 in six innings.
“My scouting report was that 1 through 9 can hit the ball,” said Wise. “The scouting report was right.”
Prior to the Southern game, North Bullitt returned to Kentucky Country Day. Unfortunately, the 4-3 setback was the identical score to a game played a week prior.
Senior Kyle Peyton pitched five innings of two-run ball but KCD scored in the bottom of the seventh thanks to a pair of errors to claim the victory.
Hutchison, Barr and Hull drove in runs and Montgomery had the only two-hit game.
Entering the final week, North Bullitt was to close out its home portion on Monday and Tuesday before going on the road to Central Hardin, Washington County and John Hardin.
“Obviously, you never think that you’d be juggling a lineup at this stage in the season,” said Wise, whose team is now 15-15. “But our goal of winning the district and going deep into the regional has not changed.”
With so many rainouts, North Bullitt won’t have to worry about canceling any games due to the season limit. Instead, Wise said it would be a beneficial week to get the pitching rotation in order and the lineup determined.