Danville ready to contend for state baseball title again

Published 7:30 am Tuesday, May 31, 2022

For the second straight year, Paul Morse believes he has one of the top teams in the state baseball tournament. These days, however, it’s a little more crowded at the top.

The Danville coach said unlike last year, when his team was on a very short list of teams who could truly win it all, the Admirals will be part of a full field of championship contenders when the state tourney opens Thursday in Lexington.

In other words, if you’ve got a spot, you’ve got a shot.

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“We felt like last year there were really three teams that legitimately had a shot to win it from a talent standpoint,” Morse said. “This year there’s not that one team that stands out. There are 16 teams, and they’ve all got a shot. Whoever made it there legitimately has a shot.”

No. 7 Danville (30-8) will take its shot in a first-round game against Boyd County at 10 a.m. Thursday at Kentucky Proud Park.

The Admirals are one of eight or nine ranked teams in the field, including five of the top 10 teams in the final coaches’ poll of the season.

Few of their opponents will be able to match their level of experience, and that could be where they have an edge. Five players who were in the starting lineup last season returned for a Danville team now led by nine seniors.

“A team with some experience, that’s been there before, that’s going to go a long way,” Morse said.

Boyd is devoid of state tournament experience, though it is a familiar brand in postseason baseball.

The Lions won the 16th Region 12 times between 1988 and 2006 and were state champions in 2001, but this year’s regional title was their first since 2014 and only their second since ’06.

Still, Boyd (25-9) is dangerous because it is hot. The Lions opened 5-7 but have won 20 of their last 22 games.

“Boyd County is a very good team that has been playing very well down the stretch,” Morse said.

The Lions allowed only half as many runs per game during their last 22 games (3.0) as in their first 12 games (6.0), and they have given up only four runs in five postseason games.

Sophomore Jacob Vanover pitched a three-hit shutout in their semifinal win over Raceland, and senior Jake Biggs threw a four-hit shutout against Rowan County in the title game. Morse said he expects one of them to start Thursday’s game.

“Both are very good pitchers who have put up really good numbers this year,” Morse said.

Biggs is 5-2 with a 1.46 earned-run average and 51 strikeouts in 48 innings; Vanover is 5-2 with a 2.27 ERA and 60 Ks in 46 1/3 innings.

Boyd is led at the plate and in the field by senior shortstop Luke Preston, who is hitting .477.

Danville is likely to start either Brady Baxter (10-2, 1.65) or Brady Morse (8-3, 2.06). Baxter has the fourth-highest strikeout total in the state with 117 in 64 2/3 innings; Morse has 94 in 63 2/3 innings.

Baxter leads the Admirals’ offense with a .487 batting average and 11 home runs, while Morse is hitting .480 with six homers.

Both Danville and Boyd are averaging about 8 1/2 runs per game, and Danville’s team batting average of .336 is only three points better than Boyd’s. But while the Admirals have the highest home run total in the state with 50 longballs in 38 games, the Lions have only 13 homers in 34 games.

The Boyd-Danville winner will play a quarterfinal game at 10 a.m. Saturday against the winner of Thursday’s DeSales-Woodford County game. The semifinals and finals will be played next weekend.

The tournament field also includes No. 1 McCracken County, No. 3 St. Xavier, No. 5 Owensboro Catholic, No. 6 Beechwood, No. 13 Madison Central, No. 17 Russell County and No. 23 Corbin. No. 21 Central Hardin was playing in the lone remaining regional final Monday.