What Western Hills baseball coach Eric Grubb would like to see his team do is score early, put pressure on the other team, dictate the pace of the game.
That’s what the Wolverines did Monday in the first round of the 11th Region Tournament at WHHS, beating Henry Clay 4-0 behind a one-hit complete game from senior pitcher Zack Barker.
WHHS (17-13) will play Tates Creek today at 5:30 p.m. in the semifinals. Tates Creek defeated Berea 18-2 in five innings Monday.
The second semifinal will feature Madison Central and Scott County at 8 p.m. Madison Central advanced with an 8-2 win over Lexington Catholic, and Scott County defeated Franklin County 6-2 in eight innings.
“When you can go out and put runs on the board early in the game, you put pressure on the other team,” Grubb said, “and that’s huge for us because we’ve got good pitching and defense.”
WHHS set the tone early, scoring a run in the first when Kyle Stevens hit a two-out double and came home on a single by Jesse Howard.
Henry Clay’s one hit of the game came in its first at-bat, when Sam Jiunta hit a lead-off double in the bottom of the first inning.
The next three batters were out with a strikeout, groundout and fly ball, and the Blue Devils (19-19) didn’t seriously threaten the rest of the way.
“I hadn’t pitched against them so they’d never seen me,” Barker said. “That’s always a positive.
“I knew they were a pretty good hitting team and I had to keep the ball down. I knew I had to bring my ‘A’ game to win.”
The Wolverines gained some breathing room in the third inning, scoring two runs on singles by Brendan Cummins, Howard, Barker and Tyler Anglin and an error.
The score stayed 3-0 until the fourth inning when Thomas Bennett drew a two-out walk and scored on a double by Seth Roush.
Barker’s back started bothering him in the fourth inning, but he was able to keep pitching. He first hurt his back about two weeks ago.
“My velocity probably dropped about seven miles per hour,” Barker said. “I just had to locate my pitches from there.”
Henry Clay, looking to get someone on base, had Trevor Hammonds lay down a bunt to lead off the fifth inning.
WHHS third baseman Kyle Fisher bare-handed the ball and threw to first in time for the out.
“Barker had a great game,” Grubb said, “and Fisher had a great play on that bunt. It’s one of those plays that if it goes down the right field line you could end up with a man on second, and that could change the complexion of the game.
“I’m very proud of the guys.”
Stevens hit a double and single for WHHS, Howard and Barker both singled twice, Roush hit a double, and Cummins and Anglin each had a base hit.
Ben Rider was Henry Clay’s starting pitcher and went four innings, followed by Mark Dill who pitched two innings and Aaron McGeorge who worked the last inning.
“We were rolling the ball today,” Grubb said. “We executed the hit and run. Jesse was able to get one between first and second on a hit and run, and we had a big hit from Seth Roush.
“Our seniors realize the light at the end of the tunnel is getting close, and their focus and attention to detail is really good.”
To see more photos from the game, click here.