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Harrison County vs. Pikeville | State Tournament Preview

Date: Friday, June 2nd
Time: 5 p.m.
Location: Counter Clocks Field
Weather: 89º

The 2023 Clark’s Pump-N-Shop KHSAA Baseball State Tournament gets started this week at the newly named Counter Clocks Field in northeast Lexington. Expect heavy traffic in Lexington, as the city is hosting the NCAA Baseball Regional, Railbird Music Festival, and KHSAA’s baseball, softball, and track events.

Full Bracket:

PIKEVILLE

Pikeville made their way to Counter Clocks Field for the state tournament by first defeating Belfry 10-0.  The 15th Region Tournament was held at the Stonecrest Sports Complex in Prestonsburg. They come into the tournament with a record of 24-11.

In the semifinals, Pikeville defeated long-time rival Paintsville 3-1.  Pikeville was able to make the most of their 4 hits off pitcher Connor Fugate.  Fugate is headed to Kentucky next year and gave up 2 runs, 1 earned and 1 unearned, with 2 walks and 11 strikeouts.  Isaac Duty started for Pikeville and held Paintsville to 1 run despite walking 8 batters.  He allowed 1 hit and struck out 8.  Freshman Bash Ryan came in for relief for 1.2 innings to close out the game.

With 2 outs in the 8th, Paintsville had to take out Connor Fugate who had reached the pitch limit.  Painstville put in Ashton Miller, who threw 3 straight balls and gave up the homerun on his 4th pitch. Dylan Thompson won the game for the Panthers with his 2-run homerun off the Painstville giving his team the 3-1 win. 

Pikeville won a 8-7 slugfest with Johnson Central in the championship game.  That game also went into 8 innings, with Pikeville scoring 1 more run in the top of the 8th. They scored after the lead-off batter was hit by a pitch followed by a sacrifice bunt, putting a runner on third with 1 out.  Their 8-man Hall bunted for a hit which allowed the go-ahead run to score. 

Now, Pikeville has their eyes set on a state championship.

They are coached by Shane Simpkins, who has been the head coach since 2019.  Simpkins was there to watch as Harrison County won the 10th Region title.  

Expected Lineup:

1. Bradyn Hall CF
Pikeville’s lead-off man has 46 hits on the season with 11 walks at a .387 average.  The sophomore has a hit in every postseason game so far.  He also has 25 stolen bases on the year and has only been caught stealing twice.  He has 14 bunt hits on the year. 

2. Sam Wright SS
The left-handed batting junior has 34 hits and is batting just under .293.  He has stolen 25 bases on 26 attempts. He has 4 sac bunts on the year.

3. Wade Hensley DH
The senior lefty has 31 hits on the year with a .446 batting average.

4. Dylan Thompson 1B
Thompson bats cleanup and is a junior.  He is batting .390 with 32 hits, 14 of which are extra base hits.  He also has 3 homeruns with 30 RBIs.    

5. Noah Jarrell C
.312 BA, 20 H, 8 2B, 29 RBI, 7 BB

6. Jeb Wilkerson RF
.311 BA, 28 H, 8 2B, 24 RBI, 0 BB

7. Bash Ryan 2B
.351 BA, 33 H, 4 2B, 4 3B, 17 RBI, 12 BB

8. Jackson Hall 3B
.250 BA, 25 H, 16 RBI

9. Jake Lowe LF
.277 BA, 26 H, 8 2B, 17 RBI, 

Projected Starter: Issac Duty
The ace right-hander has thrown 56.2 innings in his sophomore season so far and is the expected starter for Friday’s game as their ace.  He stands at 6’4″ with a fastball averaging 83-85 mph and a curveball and slider around 70 mph along with a 60 mph changeup. Duty has started in 12 games and came in for relief in 4.  Duty (6-3) was the starter in their 4-0 win over Shelby Valley in the district championship, where he threw 5 innings of 2-hit baseball with 3 walks and 11 strikeouts.  He also pitched against Paintsville in the 15th Region semifinals.  He threw 6.1 innings, allowing only 1 hit and 1 run with 12 strikeouts.  However, he walked 8 batters in that game.  He was taken out after throwing the limit of 123 pitches, with 69 strikes (56%).  That outing was uncharacteristic of Duty, as he had only been averaging a walk every 3 innings before that with a strike percentage of 63%.  He throws a first-pitch strike to just under 6 out of every 10 batters.  He is holding his opponents to a batting average of just .132 with a WHIP of .900.  Duty typically has a designated hitter for him.  He is batting .095 in 21 at-bats.  

Other Pitchers:

Dylan Thompson
45.1 IP, 3.09 ERA, 39 H, 22 BB, 66 K

Bash Ryan
44 IP, 3.66 ERA, 40 H, 27 BB, 42 K

Mac Whitaker (left) and Shane Simpkins (right) get soaked by their players after winning their region. Marshall Canupp, WCYN and Mike Muncy, News-Express.

HARRISON COUNTY

Harrison County ends a 10-year drought of playing in the baseball Sweet 16. They are coached by Mac Whitaker. Whitaker is in his 45th year as head coach of the Thorobreds and is the state’s all-time wins leader with 1,220 wins.

The Thorobreds had a tough draw in the region tournament. They faced Bourbon County in the first round with both teams throwing their ace. Bourbon County threw freshman JT Ritchie and Harrison threw Corey Vaughn. The Breds came up on top 6-2 thanks to Mason Smiley’s two homerun game. Corey Vaughn threw 4.2 innings giving up 2 runs with Jacob Cracraft coming in to get the save allowing no runs.

The Breds had another tough semifinals matchup, facing Mason County and their number two Eli Porter. Porter had trouble finding the strike zone, walking 5 batters in his 5 innings and allowing 5 hits. Cray Fite came in for relief but the Breds kept hitting, scoring 5 runs off Fite in 2 innings. Every Harrison County batter reached base and 8 of them collected an RBI. Braxton Grubb started and threw 5 innings with 4 runs (1 earned) off 5 hits and 1 walk. Jacob Cracraft came in for another save and threw 2 scoreless innings. Harrison County won 11-4.

Harrison County finally got over the hump, defeating Campbell County 11-1 in 6 innings for the 10th Region Championship. Read more here.

While Harrison County has a record of 31-8, they are 31-4 in Kentucky. Their Kentucky loses are to Madison Central (14-7), Campbell County (6-4), Warren East (4-2), and Lexington Catholic (6-3). Lexington Catholic will join Harrison County at state tournament. Coach Mac Whitaker says he wasn’t discouraged about their early loss to Campbell County.

“We threw Eli (Phelps) and got some scouting reports on them and had a feel for what they like to do, and so we used that game to build for the future.”

Four of their losses are form their trip down to Pensacola over spring break. They were outscored 4-36 by Florida powers. Three of those teams made it to Florida’s 6A regional quarterfinal games. All of those teams had exceptional pitchers and helped prepare them for the postseason says Coach Whitaker.

“I’ve been telling our kids (this week) that they are prepared. We’ve faced great teams and you’ve seen this type of competition before. We’ve played on this level before and we know how to handle it.”

Expected Lineup:

1. Elijah Harris SS
Harris is the lead-off man for Harrison County and is an exceptional player all the way around. He is a solid defender at shortstop and is quick on the base paths with a team-leading 27 stolen bases on 29 attempts. The junior is smart in the box and has drawn 36 walks, good for 4th in the state and has 40 hits on a .396 average.

2. Cliffy McIlvain 2B
McIlvain has only struck out 8 times in 111 plate appearances; the best strikeout percentage on the team. McIlvain has 37 hits with a batting average just under .400.

3. Corey Vaughn P
The junior ace and 3-hitter is 10th in the state in hits with 54 and has a batting average of .462, both of which led the 10th Region. Vaughn, who pitches left and bats right, has 44 RBI’s with 11 doubles and 4 homeruns. He is 10th in the state in hits and 14th in RBIs.

4. Cameron White RF
Senior Cameron White is tied for second on the team in hits with 40. He is second in RBIs with 39, and has 12 doubles. He is batting .374 on the year.

5. Mason Smiley 3B
Smiley had two homeruns in Harrison County’s first round region win over Bourbon County after being moved up one spot in the lineup on his birthday. He has 39 hits and is batting .386. He has 8 doubles and 4 homeruns.

6. Malachi Feeback LF
The senior slugger started off the year slow.  He leads the 10th Region and is 4th in the state in homeruns with 10. He has 32 hits at a .320 batting average.

7. JD Kendall 1B
.346 BA, 28 H, 16 RBI, 11 BB

8. Brian Vaughn C
.293 BA, 17 H, 16 RBI, 6 BB

9. Jashon Lewis CF
.386 BA, 39 H, 28 RBI, 22 BB. Lewis has stolen 19 bases and has only been caught stealing once. His speed has helped him to 10 doubles and 2 triples.

Projected Pitcher: Corey Vaughn
The southpaw ace has throw 66.1 innings and last pitched against Bourbon County in the first round of the regional tournament. In that game, he threw 75 pitches which would have allowed him to pitch in the region championship if needed. He threw 4.2 innings with 3 hits, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts, and 1 earned run. Vaughn has a 2.22 ERA with 89 strikeouts and 30 walks. He has a WHIP of 1.06.

Other Pitchers:

Braxton Grubb:
43 IP, 2.44 ERA, 33 H, 18 BB, 57 K

JD Kendall:
50 IP, 2.38 ERA, 45 H, 20 BB, 44 K

The Matchup:

Pikeville has won 44 district championships and just won their 10th regional title, their first since 2012.  Harrison County has also won 44 district championships and won their 22nd region title and first 2013.  When Harrison County won the 2010 state championship, Pikeville joined them in the semifinals.

Per Jim Swinford of WCYN, these two teams have met four times in history. Harrison County leads the series 4-0 after beating Pikeville in twice in 1988, and once in 1992 and 1994.

Expect some small ball on Friday night between the two teams. 

Shane Simpkins told the News-Express, “I preach to them every day that you have to focus on bunts and playing small ball.”  

It was small ball that won the region for Pikeville and what gave Harrison County the lead in the region finals. 

Harrison County coach Mac Whitaker said, “We can’t just rely on the homerun or the big hit.  Sometimes you have to run bases and sometimes you have to force them into mistakes. We executed a safety squeeze to give us the lead, and that puts pressure on the other team and now they have to produce… Our kids play really well with a lead. They have confidence in their pitchers and they have confidence in each other to play good defense.”

Pikeville will try to force runners into scoring position whether it be by a sacrifice bunt or stealing bases.  Pikeville has 106 stolen bases and has only been caught stealing 14 times. 

While both teams have an exceptional pitching staff, there will be no shortage of offense.

Harrison County’s high-powered offense leads the state in hits with 380. The next closest is Taylor County at 353. They are 3rd in the state in several categories: doubles with 76, homeruns with 25, and RBIs with 290. The teams batting average of .374 is top five in the state as well.

Whitaker said his team has been having really good practices lately, and their offense is focused on advancing base runners and not striking out with runners on, saying, “Anytime you make contact you have a chance to score a run.”

Coach also said his team has been focused and this has been one of the most fun teams he’s coached.

“When it gets right down to it, our team chemistry is so good and dugout’s been so good. Everybody’s pulling for each other and everybody’s focused and makes a big difference.”

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