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16th Region baseball: Led by triumvirate, Raiders triumphant

RUSSELL Was that Jaxon Barker, Gavin Sexton and Evan Goodman or Juan Soto, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton?

The East Carter trio resembled the New York Yankees’ three-headed monster with the way they punished the baseball on Monday night in the 16th Region Tournament opening round at Russell High School.

At the 5-6-7 spots in the lineup, Barker, Sexton and Goodman combined for seven hits (including two home runs), five RBIs and five runs in East Carter’s 10-2 win over Ashland.

“When those three are hitting in that part of the order, it’s a good day for us,” said East Carter coach Jeremiah Shearer.

Barker and Sexton each enjoyed his first home run of 2024 with bombs to left center field. Sexton went deep in the third and Barker in the sixth.

“Both of them have hit the ball really well — a lot of doubles, balls in the gaps — but tonight they seemed to see the ball really well, got the ball up and out of here,” Shearer said.

From the catcher position, Barker let loose a roar of encouragement after East Carter recorded the final out of each inning. He was exponentially pumped up when he pounded the ball over the fence.

“I get the team amped up and every game we get in, hyped up,” he said. “I’m the energy, I gotta keep us going. That’s how we win games.”

Eight different Raiders notched at least one hit as they collected 14 in total. Barker was 2 for 3 with three RBIs. Goodman was 3 for 3. Sexton went 2 for 4 with a pair of RBIs.

“It was so fun,” Barker said of the hit parade. “It felt like it was so electric, especially in region time, gotta clutch up and keep getting those hits.”

Andrew Tomolonis — East Carter’s top arm — tossed five efficient frames. The senior allowed two runs — when Brady Marushi mashed a 1-0 offering well beyond the fence in left center. He gave up three hits and struck out six.

By tossing just 49 pitches, Tomolonis preserved his eligibility for Wednesday’s finals if East Carter would reach that point.

“We were trying to keep him at 50 or below,” Shearer said. “I didn’t know if that would be three innings, four innings, but he went out there in the fifth and had a really efficient fifth inning (six pitches).”

Tate Scott and Sexton tossed a scoreless inning apiece to seal the victory. Each had two strikeouts.

East Carter (20-6) advanced to the semifinals to face Rowan County. The Raiders have appeared in four consecutive region semifinals. They have 11 seniors on the roster.

“Tip your cap to East Carter,” said Ashland coach Shane Marushi. “You’ve got the Scott twins (Tate and Ty) in the middle, the (Blake) Hall kid in center … they’re so good. That’s a testament to Coach Shearer and those guys. They took that bunch and kinda molded them. They’re easy to root for. They’re unselfish; they play for each other.”

The youthful Tomcats (9-26) aspire to be that type of team in the next few years, Marushi said.

“That’s exactly what we just talked about,” said the coach, referring the postgame gathering. “That’s what we’re striving to be in the next couple years. There’s a reason they’re one of the favorites to win it.”

LJ Murphy, Brady Marushi, Drew Kelley and Sam Lyons each accounted for a hit for Ashland. Caden Church, Murphy and Kelley each footed the pitching rubber. Church was on the heels of two dynamite starts against Raceland and Boyd County.

“You gotta stay on top of the baseball when you’re hitting against (Church),” Shearer said. “He induces a lot of fly-ball outs, so our big thing was don’t pop it up, don’t get under it. Try to stay on top, line it out and it’ll turn into line drives in the gap.”

East Carter hitters struck out only twice in 35 plate appearances.

ASHLAND 002 000 0 — 2 4 2

E. CARTER 113 212 X — 10 14 0

Church, Murphy (4), Kelley (6) and Marushi; Tomolonis, Ta. Scott (6), Sexton (7) and Barker. W—Tomolonis. L—Church. 2B—Lyons (A), Barker (E), Ta. Scott (E), Sexton (E), Goodman (E). 3B—Hutchinson (E). HR—Barker (E), Sexton (E).