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16th Region baseball: Boyd bolts by Fleming for 30th win

RUSSELL It was good morning, good pitching and good McKnight for Boyd County on Monday.

JK McKnight collected seven total bases and Grant Slater racked up 12 strikeouts to lead the Lions to an 11-2 victory over Fleming County in the opening round of the 16th Region baseball tournament at Russell High School. The first pitch of Monday’s full slate of four games was at 10:04 a.m.

Boyd County picked up its 30th win of 2024. The Lions amassed 30 W’s for the first time since 2005, when they were a state semifinalist.

Despite a 12-game winning streak entering the region tournament, Boyd County’s bats have been a bit cool at times — including just five hits and two runs in a nail-biting 2-1 district championship win over Ashland.

“We had a really good week of practice after the Ashland game, so I felt like everybody was locked in,” McKnight said.

McKnight sparked a four-run third inning with a ground-rule double to center field.

At that point, Fleming County clung to a 2-1 lead.

“We had a lead in the third, felt good then, but they’re a little overpowering and that’s part of it,” said Fleming County coach Zach McRoberts.

After Alex Martin doubled and Slater walked, the bases were juiced. Brogan Jones deadlocked the game at 2-2 with a sacrifice fly to right field — just moments after narrowly missing a grand slam with a slightly foul ball over the left-field fence.

For the second time in the early going, Boyd County scored a one-out run from third base when Fleming County’s catcher decided to try to nab a Lion stealing second.

“We were trying to keep it close, take the outs if they gave it to us,” McRoberts said. Each time, though, the runner was safe both at second and home.

Peyton Jackson accounted for a seeing-eye RBI single to left and Josh Kelly blooped a single to right to boost Boyd to a 5-2 lead through three.

Boyd County (30-3) barreled up the baseball repeatedly in the fifth against Fleming County ace Adam Hargett.

Jacob Vanover doubled, Michael Potter singled, Kelly bunt-singled, Ryan Brown bunt-singled, McKnight reached on a fielder’s choice while driving home a run, Martin doubled again and, finally, Slater singled. All told, the Lions laced six hits in the fifth to zoom out to an 11-2 advantage.

“With the pitching we have, if we hit the ball like we did today, we’ll be all right,” said Lions coach Frank Conley. “We haven’t hit the ball that way in a while. It was good to see them open it up a little bit, have some fun at the plate.”

Hargett threw five frames for Fleming County (13-21).

“He’s not a pushover,” Conley said of the right-hander. “We knew he was going to challenge us. He made it hard on us early, but we started chipping away and did pretty well.”

Slater, a freshman right-hander, went five innings, allowing two runs while punching out 12 Panthers. He walked a pair. He’s allowed just four earned runs in 39 2/3 innings this season.

“Kid’s a stud. What can I say?” said McKnight, a senior. “Talented kid, works his butt off. Solid kid, did a good job today.”

Cayden Butler and Brody Biggs each tossed a scoreless inning in relief. Biggs struck out two in the seventh. Because of injury, it was the freshman lefty’s first varsity appearance since March 23 against Wolfe County.

McKnight was 3 for 4 with two doubles and a triple. He scored three runs. Martin had two doubles, two RBIs and two runs. Kelly was 2 for 4.

“Short park here, so it’s pretty hard to hit a triple,” McKnight said. “No matter what happens, just stay with the approach. Doubles work, triples are good, too. As long as I stay with my approach, it’ll take care of itself.”

Dylan Doyle was 1 for 2 with an RBI and a double for Fleming County. Brady Faris, Parker Sills and Preston Cropper had back-to-back-to-back hits — three of the Panthers’ five total hits — in the second.

“We had 10 games this year where we lost by one run,” McRoberts said. “We came in here and competed with our best guy on the mound. … We tried to keep it close as long as we could, but they’re a top five team in the state, so what do you do?”

Boyd County advanced to a semifinal matchup against Raceland.

FLEMING CO. 002 000 0 — 2 5 1

BOYD CO. 014 150 X — 11 12 2

Hargett, Applegate (6) and Doyle; Slater, Butler (6), Biggs (7) and Gray. W—Slater. L—Hargett. 2B—McKnight 2 (B), Doyle (F), Martin 2 (B), Vanover (B). 3B—McKnight (B).