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Panther Pain | McCracken

From The Mean Streets Of Mound City

by Mickey Mounds
Contributor, covering Kentucky, Missouri’s Bootheel and St Louis

 

Mickey’s father, a multi-sport athlete who played against Bill Bradley in a conference title game, used to tell a story about an American Legion ballplayer whose determination was only matched by a short attention-span. Once, after being called safe on a wildly-contested slide, the man dismissed a 3rd baseman’s argument with the umpire by saying “That’s baseball, man.”

But after thoughtlessly stepping off the bag to dust his uniform, the uppity base-runner was hilariously tagged out. “Well,” he said again in a dejected tone, “that’s baseball.”

For months, Mean Streets has been saying that the key to a KHSAA championship for McCracken County would be the team’s versatility and mental focus. Last Friday, the Mustangs lost their all-around-perfection mojo and field-awareness just long enough to lose a 2nd straight semi-final.

But they didn’t go down without a battle.

McCracken lost 6-3 to the eventual 2017 KHSAA champion Pleasure Ridge Park Panthers, in the 3rd game of what might have been the toughest state-tournament draw in recent memory (Trinity, Scott County plus the eventual champs).

Down 6-1 in the 7th inning, the Mustangs hustled and fought for 2 runs before Will Sykes hit a blistering line drive with 2 runners on-base. But junior Jalil Akbar, a shortstop with tiny whip-quick frame and a name to shame any TV wrestling character, lept to intercept the shot and came down with the game-winning catch.

It took a conspiracy of calamities to bring down McCracken. Luke Seed, the club’s  blue-chip hurler, didn’t see the mound in the final game of his junior year due to an elbow injury. To make matters worse, 3 costly errors led to a deadly batch of mid-game runs for the Panthers as the eventual KHSAA victors ran out to a 5-0 lead.

Finally, base-running (which helped snag a 4-2 quarterfinal win over Scott County) failed the Mustangs, who stranded runners and suffered tag-outs at several crucial moments.

“That’s just high school baseball,” said McCracken coach Geno Miller.

The Paducans will bring back a mighty roster of seniors-to-be in 2018, including Seed, Sykes, Rook Ellington and talented Cameron Langsdon.

Meanwhile, Pleasure Ridge Park withstood another late charge in the KHSAA Championship tilt against fellow finalists Simon Kenton, winning a 6th Kentucky title in a dramatic 6-5 result. The Panthers’ roster will retain an outstanding pitcher of its own, junior Garrett Schmeltz who tamped down the Mustangs for much of the penultimate contest. It would not be shocking to see Seed and Schmeltz have the opportunity to duel one another in the 2018 tournament.

The western lands of Kentucky did claim a state championship on a high school diamond in 2017 – the softball diamond. Madisonville North-Hopkins beat Louisville Male High School (which knocked the McCracken Lady Mustangs out of the tournament early on) 5-3 in a rubber-match that saw yet another late-inning rally held off by the eventual champs. Senior Courtney Patterson emerged as the winning pitcher, helped by classmate Kaylee Tow’s 2 hits and an RBI triple by sophomore Mykayla Spurlin.

But there can be no better epilogue to a semester of competition than losing Male HS coach Josh Bloomer’s words of perspective and grace following the loss. “If I’m going to lose to somebody, it would be that program,” Bloomer said of the KHSAA champion Lady Maroons. “It was going to be bittersweet (win or lose), because tomorrow I don’t get to coach my team.”

Thanks to everyone for reading MVP Sports throughout the 2017 High School and Collegiate baseball and softball seasons. Stay tuned for coverage of the fall prep calendar!

 

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