It has been no secret in 15th Region circles this season that the Lawrence County Bulldogs and the Johnson Central Golden Eagles have been by far the two best teams.
It was only fitting that the two met on the grand stage that was the 15th Region championship game Tuesday night at Floyd Central. With a trip to the Semi-State 8 in Morehead on the line, the Bulldogs ended the Golden Eagles’ season with a 12-7 victory to move one step closer to the final eight at Whitaker Bank Ballpark, home of the Lexington Legends.
Lawrence County rolled past Paintsville in the first round Saturday by a score of 11-4. They advanced to the championship game on Memorial Day by defeating the Pikeville Panthers 6-4. Johnson Central shutout tournament host Floyd Central Saturday 6-0. The Golden Eagles followed that by defeating the Belfry Pirates 7-2 on Memorial Day to set up the showdown of the region’s two best clubs.
The Golden Eagles went to their ace on the hill in Ryley Preece.
The Bulldogs countered with Bryce Blevins.
Lawrence County held a commanding 5-1 lead heading into the top of the third inning after scoring three runs in the bottom half of the second.
Johnson Central’s Ryan Sartin-Slone singled up the middle giving the Golden Eagles a baserunner for EKU commit Blake Delong, but Sartin-Slone was caught in a rundown and was tagged out clearing the bases. That run would have scored had he not been caught in the rundown as Delong belted a stand-up double. Clean up hitter Hunter McCloud struckout however, and Johnson Central couldn’t plate a run in the top half.
Another EKU commit, Johnson Central’s Gabe Ferrell, came in to relieve Preece on the mound, but his appearance was short-lived as he walked the Bulldogs’ Ethan Witt and Jacob Fletcher. With two runners on, leadoff man C.J. Fairchild blasted a three-run homer off the cliff in left field.
After Lawrence County’s Austin Roe drew a walk, No. 3 hitter Jackson Feltner bashed a solo home run to left center, which led to the exit of Ferrell.
Johnson Central’s Grant Davis came in form the bullpen to try and turn things around for the Golden Eagles. Tensions ran high after the Feltner home run. After hitting the solo shot, the junior first baseman carried his bat with him over halfway down the line. In what some saw as a poor show of sportsmanship, Feltner flipped his bat really high in the air, even higher than the dugouts. This angered Golden Eagle fans and players. When Davis was brought into relief pitch, the first batter he faced was hit. Bulldog fans saw it as intentional. The Golden Eagles found themselves down 11-1 heading to the fourth inning.
Johnson Central caused some damage of its own in the top half of the inning. Davis started off the inning with a solo shot of his own. After a Cody Rice walk, he was scored by Weston May who hit a beautiful opposite-field triple to right. With May on third, Preece hit the second homer in an inning with his two-run blast. Johnson Central scored four runs in the top half cutting the lead to 11-5.
Blake Delong also came into pitch for the Golden Eagles in the bottom of the fourth.
The Bulldogs tacked on one more run on Roe’s RBI single to right field.
Johnson Central was shutdown in the fifth and sixth innings, but managed two runs in the final two at bats of the game as Preece hit an RBI double and Delong got an RBI on his hit as well.
In the end, it wasn’t enough as Lawrence County would roll on to the 12-7 victory and set up a showdown with A.J. Hacker and the Rowan County Vikings. Hacker is one of the top baseball prospects in the state of Kentucky this season.
The Semi-State 8 game will take place at noon Saturday on the campus of Morehead State University’s Allen Field.
Johnson Central finished the season with a 32-6 record and will have a good core from this season’s region runner up team.