Tough draw

Trace Willhoite, coach Scott Willard and Scott County won't have an easy road to the 11th Region baseball championship. The journey begins Sunday with a trip to Madison Central to face the defending champion Indians.

In his post-game speech to the forlorn faces in the Scott County baseball dugout after a loss in the district final, Cardinals’ coach Scott Willard said it “wouldn’t bother (him) at all” to draw one of the other tournament favorites on the road in the quarterfinals of the 11th Region tournament.

The odds were in favor of it happening, anyway, but that pep talk proved prophetic. Like it or not, SC will be part of a marquee game in the opening round as a result of Thursday’s blind draw.

Scott County (23-11) will travel to Richmond for a showdown Madison Central (26-9) at 4 p.m. Sunday in a rematch of last year’s championship game. The Indians won that one, 8-6.

It’s also a pairing of the teams that posted more wins within the region — 16 for SC, 13 by the Tribe — than anyone else this spring. Combined, they’ve won the past four region titles, but only one will survive to see the semifinal round at Scott County’s Sutton Field next week.

Regions are not seeded except in equal groups of ones (district champions) and twos (district runner-ups). Tates Creek and Franklin County were SC’s other potential first-round         opponents.

The Cardinals fell into the fate of a road game against a red-hot rival thanks to a furious comeback by Henry Clay in the 42nd District championship. Scott County led 6-0 in the top of the fifth, but a grand slam by Luc Morgan highlighted a six-run sixth that boosted the Blue Devils to a 9-6 win,

That verdict ended three significant streaks. SC had won three consecutive district titles, and its seniors had never lost a district game in 36 tries. The Cards also entered the final on a nine-game surge, which included a pair of shutouts against Henry Clay.

Madison Central routed Scott County, 10-0, in the teams’ regular-season meeting May 1. The Indians’ 44th District playoff wins over Model, 13-0, and Madison Southern, 7-3, gave them six wins in their past seven games.

Scott County has plenty of reasons for optimism, though. Senior southpaw Jordan Fox, who will pitch next year not far from Sunday’s site when he debuts for Eastern Kentucky University, is chief among them.

Fox won each of his three previous starts in the regional tournament, including a semifinal win against Lafayette last year. He has won four of his past five starts this season, a stretch in which he has served up a stingy 0.32 ERA.

Cade McKee (5-1, 2.80) and Trace Willhoite (4-2, 1.48) give the Cards’ rotation a top three capable of getting through perhaps the state’s deepest region.

Willhoite, a University of Louisville signee with a strong chance to be selected high in the Major League Baseball amateur draft next month, leads Scott County with a .426 average, 5 home runs and 35 RBIs.

Senior catcher Kyle Harbison, inked with Indiana State University, and junior designated hitter Sam Daniel also earned spots on the district all-tournament team. Daniel had six hits, a walk, and one screaming line-drive out in eight plate appearances.

Whichever team survives the Scott County-Madison Central showdown likely lands the privilege of a semifinal against Tates Creek, merely the fourth-ranked team in the state. Scott County handed Tates Creek a 9-7 loss on May 4. The Commodores (28-7) responded by winning nine of their past 10 games.

The other side of the bracket features Lafayette traveling to Henry Clay, and Franklin County hosting Madison Southern, also Sunday. Semifinals are set for Memorial Day, with the championship game at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Kal Oakes can be reached via email at sports@news-graphic.com.

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