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Boyle County sophomores shining on region stage

When sophomore Grant Hotchkiss took over for senior Sam Tiller in the 12th Region quarterfinals, he had just one thought.

“Whenever I came in I was just thinking, ‘I don’t want this to be his last start,’” Hotchkiss said. “I felt like as a team, we had to pick it up and make sure nobody ended their career that night.”

Tiller gave up an uncharacteristic six runs in 3.1 innings of work, with one run scoring with Hotchkiss on the mound. But Hotchkiss shut down the Southwestern rally in the fourth inning and proceeded to shut the door in the final three innings. He didn’t give up another run and struck out six batters the rest of the way.

Head coach Kyle Wynn says he likes what he sees in his sophomores.

“About this time of year, seniors are thinking ‘lose and go home,’” Wynn said. “I’m sure it’s reassuring to them the attitude that the sophomore class has, some of these younger guys have two more years but their attitude is ‘we don’t know about the future, we’ve got to go after it now.’ If I was a senior, I’d feel good about that, knowing the underclassmen are just as into it as they are.”

The Rebels’ bats didn’t have much energy early — three walks and a single were it in the first four innings — but sophomore Karson Thompson said senior Alex Sergent ignited the team after the fourth inning.

“We didn’t have much energy,” Thompson said. “Alex came in the dugout and started screaming at us, and we got some energy. Once we started getting hits, we got our confidence back and it was over.”

Boyle’s rally vs. Southwestern started with another sophomore — Cameron Yates. He reached on an infield single, reached second on a wild pitch, then scored on a Hotchkiss single to right field.

“When I got the RBI, Cameron started us off and he got to second. I just knew I had to get him in, get something started,” Hotchkiss said. “Once that happened, it just snowballed.”

Hotchkiss’ single was followed by a Ty Dragan walk, Sergent walk, Tristen Helton double and Thompson double.

Helton’s double made the score 6-4, and Thompson completed the comeback with a two-RBI hit of his own.

“I had that mentality, ‘I have to get a hit,’” Thompson said “I’m just trying to keep it simple, really, not think about it. The second pitcher for Southwestern, we had seen him before. That kind of helped because I knew how his ball broke. I was locked in already.”

Thompson said Sergent and Tiller helped motivate him — he made an error during Southwestern’s two-run third inning — and he knew he’d get another chance.

“It didn’t make me mad, just frustrated a little. It made me feel like I had to make up for it,” he said. “I made that error and I was upset about it, they just told me not to worry about it. I just want to make it up to the team. Especially before I tied the game, I just felt like I had to get a hit to redeem myself.”

Thompson redeemed himself, and Hotchkiss came out and struck out the side in the bottom of the fifth inning.

“Coach (Evan) Teague came up to me in the dugout and said ‘you’ve got the bottom of the lineup, just shut them down,’” Hotchkiss said. “So I just came in and, I don’t know, I was just feeling good that day.”

Thompson would have another two-RBI double in the seventh inning to secure the quarterfinal game for Boyle.

In the semifinal game against Pulaski County — which will be continued Saturday at 5:30 p.m. — Thompson had a sacrifice fly in the second inning to tie the game at 1-1. Yates scored fellow sophomores Ethan Carter and Kody Myers later in the inning after reaching base on an error.

Boyle leads 3-1 in the top of the second, with Yates on second base and Hotchkiss at the plate.

All these sophomores — the Rebels’ current lineup starts six of them, there are no juniors on the team — have shown that they don’t fold under pressure, Wynn said.

“I think it’s good that they’re getting the experience, but they don’t appear rattled,” the coach said. “This time of year, we got down 6-0 against Southwestern and you can’t hit the panic button. When you’ve got some young guys in there that don’t have that mentality, you can easily fold.

“That’s pretty neat to see, our seniors have been there, they’re guiding them, and we also have some guys who are getting their feet wet. You want them to shine this year but it should bode well for the future as well.”

Sophomore pitcher Blake Samons said he thinks the two classes have bonded in the dugout and on the field. He and his classmates have learned from the seniors, he said.

“Tiller, I look up to him a lot as a senior,” Samons said. “He does really good at that motivating stuff. He came out of the game (against Southwestern) and was a little upset and next inning, we started doing better and he was up with us and still had his head in the game. I look up to that kind of stuff and want to do the same kind of thing.”

It’ll be a challenge for the Rebels to get through Pulaski and the winner of Rockcastle County and Danville, but if they do, it’ll be back-to-back state tournament appearances for Boyle.

“It’s definitely good to have already been there, especially as an underclassman,” Hotchkiss said. “But I don’t feel like an underclassman anymore. It helps playing other sports too, it helps you grow up, be ready for the big crowds and stuff. It has really helped. I think everyone’s the same there, too.

“We’ve played together since at least eighth grade, we have really good chemistry together. I feel like that goes well with the seniors, we’ve really come together as a team and that will help us in this run.”

Wynn said it doesn’t matter what day the weather dictates his team to play — he likes his odds.

“I liked our chances three days in a row because I feel like we’re solid across the board with our pitching staff,” Wynn said. “That affects others a little differently than us, we’ve got arms that I feel comfortable running out there. I feel confident in the guys that we’re going to put out there, whether we went three straight days or whether we go now, we’re still going with the same game plan that we’ve had from the start. More than anything, we’re anxious to get out there and start.”