Getting through the 11th Region and into the conversation for the KHSAA baseball title was an uphill climb for Scott County and pretty much everyone else this past season.
Tates Creek eventually hoisted that trophy as best in the state. Madison Central also was ranked in the top five for much of the season, with SC and at least a half-dozen other teams drawing recognition in various polls and power rankings.
With all those teams vying for attention, and Scott County making its earliest playoff exit in a while, the Cardinals’ overall talent probably wasn’t recognized on the all-state team the way their fans would have hoped and expected.
Two made the cut.
Trace Willhoite was selected to the first team and Cade McKee to the third time on the expansive roster recently released by the Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches’ Association.
Notable snubs were pitcher Jordan Fox and catcher Kyle Harbison, both of whom had strong senior seasons.
Fox (Eastern Kentucky) and Harbison (Indiana State) are bound for NCAA Division I programs along with Willhoite (Louisville). McKee, who is also quarterback of the Scott County football team, has a year of high school remaining.
Willhoite mostly played first base for Scott County, but he also joined Fox and McKee as one of the team’s top starting pitchers. He also saw innings at third base and in right field.
He batted .460 over an even 100 at-bats during the regular season. Willhoite weaved an on-base percentage of .556 in 126 plate appearance and a slugging percentage of .770.
Of his 46 hits, a team-high five were home runs, including a memorable walk-off blast against Corbin on the Cards’ senior night.
He also belted 14 doubles and a triple while leading Scott County with 38 RBI. Willhoite scored 42 runs, drew more walks (17) than strikeouts (10), and was hit by a pitch on seven occasions. His seven stolen bases tied for third on the club.
On the mound, Willhoite kept his earned run average under one for much of the season before winding up at 1.48.
Willhoite was 4-2 with one save. He needed only 33 innings to amass 46 strikeouts.
McKee, who played left field or first base when he wasn’t on the mound, batted .327 with two home runs and 30 RBIs. Nearly half his hits went for extra bases thanks to nine doubles and two triples in addition to the round-tripper total.
Twenty-six walks gave McKee the team lead by a wide margin.
As a pitcher, McKee matched Fox for second on the team with five wins. His ERA of 2.77 trailed only Willhoite. McKee led Scott County with 53 innings pitched and 60 strikeouts.
Scott County finished with a record of 23-11, including a signature win over Tates Creek.
The Cardinals’ run of almost four full seasons without a loss to a 42nd District opponent ended against Henry Clay in the championship game.
Still eligible for the 11th Region tournament at that point, SC lost 1-0 at Madison Central in the quarterfinals. The Cards won that title and ultimately reached the state quarterfinals in both 2016 and 2017.
Willhoite and Tates Creek’s Colin Burgess and Konnor Lewis were first team selections from the 11th Region.
Others chosen for the KHSBCA first team were Eric Riffe (Paducah Tilghman), Jonathan Hogart (Madisonville North Hopkins) Brock Lucas (Breckinridge County), Ryan Hawks (Warren East), Ryan Kearney (Campbellsville), Will Koger (Bardstown), Garret Simpson (Bullitt East), Dallas Glass (Pleasure Ridge Park), Andrew Delaney (Eastern), Grant Knipp (Male), Daylen Lile (Trinity), Logan Beard (North Oldham), Austin Reed (Oldham County), Logan Castleman (Beechwood), Ethan Kavanagh (Highlands), Ethan Wood (Danville), Chase Estep (Corbin), Riley Preece (Johnson Central) and A.J. Hacker (Rowan County).
Hacker was named Kentucky Mr. Baseball, symbolic of the state’s outstanding senior player.
Julius Scearce of Frederick Douglass and Jared Gadd of Paul Laurence Dunbar joined McKee as 11th Region players on the third team.
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.