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The LaRue County Hawks punched their ticket emphatically to the 5th Region Baseball Tournament championship Wednesday night.
The Hawks used an opportunistic offense and an outstanding pitching performance by senior Wesley Kessinger to cruise to an 11-1 mercy-rule victory over the Adair County Indians in the early semifinal at Elizabethtown's Ron Myers Field.
"That's big when we can come out and get Wesley a couple runs early," said LaRue County senior Kyle Sheeran, who went 2-for-3 and scored twice. "We hit the ball. I really like how we swung it tonight. That's what we need to do."
LaRue County (29-9) advances to tonight's championship game, where it will meet Central Hardin. It's the first time the Hawks have been in the final since they won the 2003 tournament - also at Elizabethtown.
"Semifinal pressure is different," said LaRue County coach Chris Price. "For kids that hadn't played in the semifinals and haven't experienced any success in the region tournament, I thought scoring early was big. It relieved all the pressure. The kids worked hard yesterday and they're really focused."
Kessinger picked up the win, allowing just four hits, one walk and one earned run in five innings. His only hiccup came in the third when the Indians scored.
"All my pitches were working good," Kessinger said. "I just made good pitches and let my defense work. We made the routine plays and Kyle made that awesome catch in the outfield."
With the type of pitcher Kessinger is, the Hawks expect more flyballs. Kessinger's knuckleball often baffles hitters, and it worked against the Indians. Of the 15 outs, nine were flyouts.
"We expect flyballs, high flyballs," Sheeran said. "Hitters are used to the way he pitches so they pop a lot of balls in the air. As a defense, we know that and we're ready for it."
LaRue County only had seven hits, but the Hawks didn't strike out one time. Sheeran and Carpenter each had two hits, while senior Jesse Johnson and sophomore Austin McDowell both had a double. The Hawks continued to apply pressure by putting the ball in play.
"I thought we did a good job," Price said. "We didn't have a bunch of hits, but we did some good things. But the biggest thing was getting off to a good start."
The Hawks jumped on Adair County (26-14) early and often.
Sheeran laced a single to left to get things started in the top of the first and Johnson followed with an RBI double to left. After senior Kyle Meredith was hit by pitch, senior Slade Owens laid down a sacrifice bunt along the third base line and a throwing error allowed Sheeran to score and Meredith to take third. Kessinger put down a perfect squeeze bunt to bring in Meredith and stake the Hawks to a 3-0 lead.
With one out in the second, Carpenter walked, Sheeran singled to right and Johnson walked to load the bases. Meredith lifted a deep fly to plate Carpenter and then Owens reached on an error to score Sheeran and Johnson to stretch the lead to 6-0.
Adair County finally got on the board in the third. With one out, junior Alex Nickerson reached on a bunt single. Following a ground out, sophomore Marshall Shelley delivered an RBI single. Senior Clay Turner singled to center and senior G Young's walk loaded the bases, but Kessinger induced a fly ball to right to end the threat.
The Hawks blew the game open in the fourth. Meredith walked, stole second and third and came home on a throwing error by the catcher. Kessinger singled to center and junior Cole Hughes and Skaggs walked to load the bases. Kessinger scored on a wild pitch. McDowell supplied a two-run double and then Carpenter followed with an RBI single to build an 11-1 lead.
"It feels good to get to the championship," Sheeran said. "We're going to come out tomorrow, give it all we've got and hope for the best."
UP NEXT: LaRue County plays Central Hardin at 6:30 tonight in the 5th Region Baseball Tournament final at Elizabethtown's Ron Myers Field.