State baseball tournament highlights: McCracken County ‘caught a break’ vs. West Jessamine

Perhaps no team at the Clark’s Pump-N-Shop Baseball State Tournament knows the mental toll that baseball can inflict more than McCracken County.

The Mustangs have played in 10 consecutive tournaments. Since opening in the 2013-14 school year, only four hours and a time zone have stood between them and the 1st Region championship. Yet, despite often fielding one of, if not the most, talented teams in the tournament, the best the Mustangs have mustered is runner-up finishes in 2019 and 2021. Four other times they were thwarted in the semifinals, twice through late-inning heroics from Louisville juggernaut St. Xavier.

As McCracken County, ranked third in the state, for once found itself on the sunnier side of brutal — a 3-2 first-round win Friday against No. 16 West Jessamine decided on a wild pitch — it seemed to respect the moment more than a team with fewer wounds might have.

“Some days this game is very cruel to ya,” Mustangs head coach Zach Hobbs said. “Today it went our way and it was cruel to those guys. West Jessamine is a good baseball club. They’re well coached, a classy group, and we caught a break at the right time.”

In a 2-2 game in the bottom of the seventh, Caleb Ehling worked a 3-2 count before getting hit by a pitch from West Jessamine reliever Hayden Peters. Scout Moffatt attempted a sacrifice bunt to move Ehling into scoring position but managed more after an errant throw got past first base and moved Ehling to third. Peters’ 10th pitch went high and over the outstretched mitt of Landon Davis, who had little time to corral the ball before Ehling trotted in for the walk-off run.

Ehling, who also drove in McCracken’s first run on a single to give it a 1-0 lead in the third, has played for the Mustangs (32-9) since he was a sophomore. He was part of the most recent semifinal loss to St. Xavier, a 5-4 heartbreaker, and last year’s stunning first-round exit; the Mustangs entered as a favorite but lost 3-0 to an upstart Shelby County team that made a run to the finals.

“I think that’s only made us better,” Ehling said. “Being in close games, coming up on the wrong side, that makes us better. That makes us win these types of games when we’re ready to do it.”

Miller Green threw a complete game for McCracken, dealing 13 strikeouts while allowing just three hits and one earned run. He’s headed to Western Kentucky University whenever the Mustangs’ season wraps up — ideally, for them, next Saturday night at Kentucky Proud Park.

“I really think at state, the first game is the hardest one,” said Green, also a senior. “That’s when all the nerves set in and you realize, ‘This is it, this could be ride or die’ for the seniors. … We’ve come together a lot more as a team. We’ve hung out a lot more in the offseason. It’s like a big ol’ family here. I didn’t feel like we had that as much the last few years.”

West Jessamine (29-9) before Friday hadn’t gotten an opportunity to experience the brutality of state tournament baseball since 2016, when it made the third of its four total appearances. Because baseball’s cruelty is rivaled only by its whimsy, the Colts despite so few trips have won a state title — their bludgeoning run to the 2015 championship now is about as old as the halls of McCracken County High School.

Rob Buchanan, West Jessamine’s skipper, wasn’t part of that run, but he was on the staff in 2005 when Lexington Christian won a state title, and again in 2010 when the Eagles lost in the quarterfinals. He understands as well as anyone the highs and lows of postseason baseball.

“It’s tough to win these things,” Buchanan said. “It’s not always the best team — it’s the team that gets the breaks and it’s the team that makes the breaks.”

Through their seven innings, the Mustangs got and made more breaks than the Colts. On Saturday, when the former takes on Ryle for a shot at the semifinals, they’ll do whatever it can to stay on baseball’s good side and keep alive its hope for the only accomplishment that’s so far eluded their proud program.

“Everybody here deserves one,” Hobbs said. “We tell our kids all the time, ‘Everybody deserves it.’ We’ve all put in the work and every team that’s left in this tournament, every team that was here, deserved it. Who’s going to take advantage of the opportunity and who’s going to make it happen?”

Caleb Ehling (3) and his McCracken County teammates celebrate after he scored the winning run against West Jessamine during their first-round state tournament game Friday.
Caleb Ehling (3) and his McCracken County teammates celebrate after he scored the winning run against West Jessamine during their first-round state tournament game Friday.

Ryle 4, East Carter 2 (8 innings): Caleb Mann connected on the last of four Ryle singles in the extra frame to score the decisive runs in the Raiders’ first state tournament win in program history.

Despite finishing with only three hits, East Carter (22-7) led most of the game before Ryle (32-9) evened things at 2-2 in the top of the sixth.

“Just had to stay consistent with my emotions,” Mann, who struck out in his first two at-bats, told reporters after the game. “Don’t fold under pressure, don’t let anybody get in your head. Just keep doing me and it will work.”

Before Friday, Ryle had only played in the state baseball tournament twice, falling to Shelby County 5-0 in 2007 and Harrison County 4-1 in 2013. The Raiders won their 12th straight game to set up a 1:30 p.m. showdown with McCracken County. The programs have never met.

Owensboro Catholic 5, Corbin 4 (9 innings): A bases-loaded, walk-off single off the bat of Mason Moser helped the Aces snap one of the odder winless stretches in state tournament history. Moser was 2-for-4 at the plate along with teammate Brady Atwell to lead OCath past the Redhounds (30-11).

Owensboro Catholic won its only state championship in 1985. Since then, the Aces (30-7) have appeared in just four state tournament fields and, before Friday, hadn’t won since their 7-2 title-game win over Pleasure Ridge Park.

Hopkinsville 5, Estill County 0: The Tigers won a state tournament game for the first time since 1950, the same year they eventually played for the championship; they fell 9-8 to Newport Catholic.

Hoptown pitchers Jackson Thompson and Andrew Mayes combined to fan 13 batters and between them gave up just three hits to the Engineers (16-18). Lucas Kaetzel finished 2-for-4 at the plate, scoring twice and delivering two runs via a home run in the top of the fifth to make the final margin.

The Tigers (23-9) will play Owensboro Catholic at 5 p.m. Saturday.

Baseball State Tournament

At Legends Field on Saturday. At Kentucky Proud Park on June 14-15.


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10 a.m.: Russell County vs. Trinity

1:30 p.m.: McCracken County vs. Ryle

5 p.m.: Owensboro Catholic vs. Hopkinsville

8:30 p.m.: Lexington Catholic vs. Pleasure Ridge Park


10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.: Final four


3:30 p.m.: Championship game

State softball tournament highlights: Lexington Catholic’s future Cats power 1st-round rout