Ads’ historic season comes to an end

Published 1:26 pm Monday, June 21, 2021

LEXINGTON — Ten runs usually makes for a pretty good game, but it makes for an even better inning.

It made for the kind of inning in which McCracken County derailed Danville’s dream of a state championships by decimating its pitching depth and nullifying its offensive firepower.

McCracken scored more runs in the fifth inning Friday than Danville had allowed in any game this season, hanging 10 runs on the Admirals en route to a 15-10 victory in a KHSAA State Baseball Tournament semifinal.

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Danville scored enough runs to win almost any game — and more than McCracken had allowed all season — but it wasn’t nearly enough to extend the best season in school history.

“If you tell me this morning we’re scoring 10 runs today, (I’d say) there’s a 100 percent chance we’re winning,” Danville coach Paul Morse said.

Danville (40-4) led 7-4 before McCracken (35-5) sent 14 batters to the plate in a fifth inning that included eight hits and two walks. The Mustangs got seven of those hits and scored nine of their 10 runs with two outs to gain the upper hand in a 3-hour, 21-minute marathon in which the teams totaled 25 runs and 31 hits.

“We were just trying to find that last out, trying to find a way to get one out and get out of that inning,” Morse said. “They just kept putting pressure on us.”

Danville and McCracken were ranked at Nos. 2 and 4 in the final coaches’ poll of the regular season and came into the postseason as two of the state’s top offensive teams.

“Our thing all year was, ‘We score five, you can’t beat us,” Morse said.

The Admirals had five runs on the board after their first two at-bats, but they had no way of knowing what lay ahead.

McCracken took a 9-7 lead when its best hitter, Ben Higdon, launched a two-out grand slam home run to right field that landed on the awning of the pavilion above the 16-foot wall. It was the biggest blow of the inning, but it was nowhere near the last.

Danville’s Logan Smothers, who had come on to pitch in relief of starter Christian Howe in the third inning, gave up three straight singles after Higdon’s homer. The last was a two-run single by Brandon Dodd, and it prompted Morse to make the pitching change he hadn’t wanted to make.

The Admirals’ best pitching options were already in the field, and Morse didn’t want to bring them in without giving them time to warm up between innings.

“I don’t think we’ve done that all year,” he said.

Morse said Brady Baxter, who was playing third base at the time, “was begging me to go in” when the coach visited the mound.

“He hadn’t had a chance to warm up. He’s a Division I arm, and you don’t want to bring him in cold from over in the infield without trying to get warmed up,” Morse said. “We’ve got two outs and we’re just trying to find a way to get out of that inning to get somebody warmed up. They kept the pressure on and did a great job.”

It was 11-7 when Morse turned to Sam Matherly, a sophomore who had pitched only 9 2/3 innings this season. He gave up two more singles and another run scored before Morse brought in Baxter, who gave up a two-run double to Nate Lang before getting the elusive third out.

“It was just frustrating. Whatever we were throwing up there, they were hitting and finding holes and having some good swings,” Morse said.

“That’s a really good lineup, one through nine,” Morse said. “They don’t strike out much, they put the ball in play, and if you can’t consistently throw an offspeed pitch for a strike, even behind in the county, they’re a really good fastball hitting team.”

Danville hit the ball well, too, scoring in six of seven innings and outscoring McCracken in four of them, though the Admirals were outhit 18-13.

The Admirals kept slugging after falling behind 14-7, scoring single runs in the fifth through seventh innings.

“I’m super proud of our guys. Even after that big, bad inning we scored three more runs,” Morse said.

Christian Howe blasted a three-run home run into the left-field bleachers in the first inning to raise his state-leading season total to 21 dingers and give Danville a 3-1 lead. He finished with a game-high five RBIs after his two-run single in the fourth put the Admirals up 7-4.

Smothers had three hits and scored twice, Brady Morse had a pair of RBI singles and Wood and Baxter also had two hits each. Jaden Larmour reached base three times from the leadoff spot and scored each time.

Howe started on the mound, giving up four runs on eight hits in 2 2/3 innings before being replaced by Smothers (8-1), who took the loss after allowing eight runs on five hits in two innings.

Higdon (6-0) got the win after throwing five relief innings in which he allowed five runs on eight hits.

Wood and Preston Barnes were named to the all-tournament team from Danville.

When the KHSAA record book is rewritten after this season, Danville will have a number of new entries following a season in which the Admirals became the sixth team in Kentucky history to win 40 games and made their deepest push into the postseason.

Some of the Admirals’ significant single-season achievements include totals that will leave them:
• Tied for second in wins (40).

• Third in runs (450).

• Third in hits (476).

• Third in doubles (105).

• Third in home runs (85).

• Fourth in batting average (.407).

• Tied for second in shutouts (17).

• Second in strikeouts (399).

Some of their individual single-season performances will leave:
• Howe tied for fourth (75) and Wood tied for eighth (70) in hits.

• Howe tied for fifth (21), Wood tied for 11th (17) and Barnes tied for 13th (16) in home runs.

• Howe tied for third (81) and Wood tied for ninth (69) in RBIs.

“There are so many records that were set this year. I’m sure there are records set that we haven’t even looked at,” Morse said.

“I know they’re upset and there’s tears … but, man, they’ve got a lot to be proud of. It’s been a great year, and this has got to go down as the best baseball team in the history of the school. It’s tough right now, but when they have time to look at it and they look back, they’re going to be proud of themselves.

Morse said he’ll remember the team’s accomplishments, of course, but also the way they blended so well together.

“That’s the stuff I’ll remember, the kids and the families,” he said. “It was a family atmosphere, and that doesn’t always happen. The kids got along, they hang out with each other, they push each other, they’re just such a hard-working group, and they love to play and compete.”

“We had great support from our community all season, especially during the playoff run here. The support we had here at the state tournament was awesome. It was a great year.”

Seven seniors were on the field for the Admirals, but Morse said the contributions of younger players — including four juniors who started — give the team a solid foundation for next season.

“I feel bad for our seniors … but just like (2019) when we lost in the finals of the regional tournament, hopefully this fuels our sophomores and juniors to work that much harder over the summer and fall and winter to get ready for next year,” he said. “We’ve got some good guys coming back … and we expect them all to keep getting better, to keep improving and get us back here next year.”