The LaRue County Hawks ended their season as region runners-up after losing 4-2 Saturday to the Central Hardin Bruins.
Senior Derek Westerfield launched a two-run home run in the top of the seventh inning to lift the Bruins to victory over the Hawks in the 5th Region Baseball Tournament championship at Elizabethtown’s Ron Myers Field.
“I was trying to look for something I could drive,” said Westerfield, who has three homers this postseason. “He (Cole Hughes) gave me a changeup over the plate. I just wanted to step up and get a hit in that situation. It’s one of those feelings that I can’t describe. I think it is the best (home run I’ve hit).”
Central Hardin advanced to the Kentucky National Insurance/KHSAA State Baseball Tournament.
LaRue County (29-10) was in the championship game for the first time since winning it in 2003. Since 1969, LaRue County is 2-8 in region title games. This one definitely stung as the Hawks went toe-to-toe with Central Hardin and could have easily won if not for three costly errors.
“The defense let us down,” LaRue County coach Chris Price said. “Cole pitched a heck of a game. We fought like we have all year. But they did what they do. They take advantage of mistakes. We made too many of them and they made us pay.”
Westerfield certainly did. With two outs and the score tied at 2 in the seventh, junior Drew Harrington reached on a two-base error. Instead of being out of the inning, Hughes had to face Westerfield, who drilled a shot near the water tower in left-center field. Senior center fielder Kyle Sheeran didn’t give chase, but just turned and watched it leave the park.
Harrington retired the side in order in the seventh with three ground balls to set off another Bruin celebration. The junior left-hander earned the win, giving up five hits, five walks and two runs – both earned. Harrington struck out four.
“I had to make my best pitch every time against them,” Harrington said. “They are such a good hitting team. They do a great job. I had to pitch to contact. My defense did a great job. We had one error and I had the error.”
The game resumed in the top of the second after being called because of rain Thursday night. The game was initially rescheduled for Friday, but it had to be pushed back another day because the field was too wet.
Hughes (10-1) ran into trouble in the third when senior Cannon Ray singled to center and then junior Troy Squires and Harrington walked to load the bases. Hughes fell behind 3-1 to Westerfield before getting him to lift a harmless pop up in the infield to end the inning.
Like Hughes, Harrington had his share of troubles in the third. The only difference was Harrington was unable to get out of it unscathed. Senior Steven Carpenter walked, Sheeran laced an 0-2 pitch to left for a single and senior Jesse Johnson reached on a bunt single to load the bases.
Senior Kyle Meredith reached on an error on a slow roller back to the mound to score Johnson to make it 1-0. Senior Slade Owens hit a grounder to sophomore Troy Riggs, who threw home to force out Sheeran. Sheeran, though, slid into junior Gabe Hogan as he was trying to throw to first. Home plate umpire Andy Strain called Owens out for runner interference. Harrington induced another grounder to end the threat.
With two outs in the fifth, the Bruins finally showed some signs of life. Ray singled sharply to left and then Squires followed with a single of his own, which got by the right fielder. That allowed Ray to score and Squires raced to third. The throw to third ended up landing in a dead zone and Squires was awarded an extra base to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead.
In the sixth, LaRue County rallied to tie the score at 2. Senior Trevor Skaggs reached on a perfectly placed bunt for a single and moved to second on sophomore Austin McDowell’s groundout. Carpenter reached on an infield single and the ball ricocheted into the outfield off a Central Hardin player to score Skaggs.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Central Hardin coach Todd Thompson said. “People said we were the two best teams and we meet for the region championship. It was a whale of a game. It could have gone either way. They’re a great team. We were fortunate to get out of here with a win.”
It’s a difficult ending for LaRue County’s eight seniors as well as Price, who is retiring after this season.
“For the last three years, they have been LaRue County baseball,” Price said. “They wanted to win a region championship and they came pretty close. It’s sad to see them go.
“You like to win going out,” he added. “But it wasn’t meant to be. I’m so proud of the kids. It has been nothing but good, coaching at LaRue County.”