• Rick Capone, Sports Editor

Bat Jackets defeat Franklin Co. for district title

In a week that saw bad weather wreak havoc on the schedule of the 41st District Tournament, the Woodford County High School baseball team, which hosted the tournament at Chandler Field, held together and defeated Frankfort 11-0 in a two-day, five-inning mercy-rule win on Tuesday, May 23, and Friday, May 26, and then defeated Franklin County 6-3 in a second game on Friday, to claim its first district title since 2013. “You know, I think they just put some balls in play hard,” said second-year Woodford head coach Paul Patterson, on how his team scored early in the championship game to take an early lead. “We capitalized on a couple of their mistakes, and we got a couple of hits. They (Woodford) are keeping the ball, for the most part, out of the air, and they’re not striking out a bunch, and they’re putting pressure on the defense. They (Franklin County) made some plays, but we just put more pressure on them … and scratched a couple runs out and got us a championship.” In the Jackets’ opening game against Frankfort on Tuesday, May 23, senior Parker Thomas got the start and had good control of his pitches to keep the Flyers off the bases. In the meantime, Woodford jumped out to an early lead with two runs in the first inning, three more in the fifth and by the third inning had a 6-0 lead before the game was suspended due to lightning. It then rained the next two days to force the completion of the tournament on Friday, May 26, with Franklin County and Western Hills playing the first game at 3:30 p.m., Woodford completing its game against Frankfort at 5:30 p.m. and then the championship game being played at 7:30. In the first game on Friday, Franklin County defeated Western Hills 4-1 to advance to the district championship game. In the second game, Thomas picked up where he left off on Tuesday and closed out the Woodford’s opening game against Frankfort with an 11-0 five-inning, mercy rule win. Thomas pitched five innings, and had seven strikeouts while giving up one hit and two walks. The win set up a championship game between Woodford and Franklin County, a team the Bat Jackets had defeated both times they met this year, 4-2 at home on April 18, and 8-0 at Franklin Count on April 19. In the championship game, junior Collin Murray got the start and pitched 4-2/3rds innings. He had three strikeouts, while giving up two runs on four hits. Junior Hunter Hilbert came in to relieve Murray and pitched 1-1/3rd innings and had two strikeouts while giving up two hits. Senior Jack Ockerman relieved Hilbert in the seventh inning and, while the Flyers got men on base, the senior closed things out to give his team the win. He finished with one inning pitched and had two strikeouts, while giving up one run on two hits and one walk. About his pitchers, Patterson said, “You watch the pitching of guys like Collin Murray, who stepped up and gave us five solid innings, throwing a lot of first-pitch strikes and mixing his pitches up well and keeping hitters off balance. He competed, threw everything down hill and put us in the position to win the baseball game. “Then you go to a guy like (Hunter) Hilbert, who competes and throws multiple pitches for strikes and throws them down hill. And then you go to another guy like Jack (Ockerman), who does the same thing. … Jack came in, (and) they got a couple hits on him. … (But), he came in, and if I’m looking out there and I’ve got Jack Ockerman on the mound, like I said earlier in they year, I’m still feeling pretty dog-gone good.” Offensively in the game, Woodford took an early two-run lead in the first inning, scored one more in the second, two in the third and one in the fourth. In the first inning, with one out and Ockerman on third base, junior Sam Flora on second and McNeely on first, sophomore Ben Browning hit a hard ground ball and reached first safely due to an error by the first basemen. Meanwhile, Ockerman and Flora scored to give Woodford a 2-0 lead. In the second inning, Franklin County scored two runs to make it 2-2, but Woodford answered right back. With two outs and junior Bryce Sheets on third, senior Seth Denton on second and junior Josh Hall at bat, Hall got a hit and Sheets scored on an error by the left fielder to make it a 3-2 ball game. Woodford scored two more runs in the third inning to break the game open. It began with one out, Browning on third base and senior Alec Neff on first. Murray hit a sacrifice bunt that scored Browning to make it 4-2, and advanced Neff to second. Then, Denton hit a hard ground ball into left field for a single, which scored Neff to give the Bat Jackets a 5-2 lead. In the fourth inning, Woodford scored its final run of the game. With no outs and Flora on first base, McNeely singled on a line drive to left field, which brought Flora all the way around for a score to give his team a 6-2 lead. Franklin County did try to rally in the sixth and seventh innings, and while they got a number of runners on base, the Flyers could only get one more run in the top of the seventh, which gave Woodford the 6-3 win and its first district title in four years. Afterwards, Patterson talked about how pleased he was with his team’s play in winning the district title. One player that really caught his attention was Neff. “Alec has grown a lot as a person and a player,” said Patterson. “He has dedicated himself to being the best player he can and has worked hard every day. When he plays well, I feel we are unbeatable. In the district tournament, he locked down shortstop which is a big reason we won. Right now I feel when the other team hits him the ball, they are out. I’m most impressed because he has shown up everyday since August 15th ready to work and it is paying off for the kid.” Patterson also noted how important his assistant coaches were to the success o the team, not just in the championship game, but all season long. “I’ve said this all year, we have the best coaching staff in the state,” said Patterson. “David Billingsley was awarded 11th Region Assistant Coach of the Year for the work he did with the JV team going 18-6. My other assistants, Luke Hawkins, Greg Laswell, Kevin Haury, West Harris, Bruce Hadden and Curtis Ham, all have three things in common – they love the game, they love the kids, and they love to teach. It’s been a blessing watching these guys perform.” Region update The 11th Region Tournament opened on Monday, May 29, at Madison Southern. In Woodford’s opening game, the Jackets defeated Lexington Christian 7-3. Ockerman had the start and pitched 5-2/3rd innings and had eight strikeouts while giving up two runs on three hits and four walks. Hilbert relieved him and pitched 1-1/3rd innings and had two strikeouts while giving up one run on one hit. On Tuesday, May 30, Woodford faced Sayre in the region semifinals at Madison Southern. There, with Thomas getting the start, the Bat Jackets fell behind 5-0 in the second inning and, while they did score two runs in the fifth and one in the sixth, they were unable to catch up, as Sayre went on to win the game 7-3 to end Woodford’s 2017 season.

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