Don't look now, but could there be a changing of the guard over in the 15th Region as far as baseball is concerned?
Over the last several years Lawrence County has been the team to beat over in the 15th Region. Teams like Pikeville, Paintsville and Johnson Central has always been on their heels. But with the losses of several key players last year like, TIm Hayes and Jeff Cyrus, the Bulldogs could be missing some much need bats in their lineups.
After speaking with new Head Coach Travis Feltner earlier in the year, he told me that the pitching led by Sophomore Chandler Shepherd was the strength. Defense needed the most work, and the hitting was the biggest surprise. Earlier in the year, the bats were hot but then the Bulldogs hit a little slide losing 5 in a row including losses to Perry Central and Paintsville. On Thursday, Lawrence County might of been subject to one of the bigger upset of the year when they lost to Prestonsburg by the score of 6-5. The 7 errors by the Bulldogs didn't help their cause, but now they find themselves with a 9-8 record.
On the flipside, Paintsville is currently the #1 team in the 15th in terms of record with 15 wins and 3 losses. Key wins for the Tigers include Hazard, Letcher Central(twice), and Lawrence County. I have gotten a chance to see this team play several times this year. Compared to last year, they lost a lot of leadership with the graduations of JD VanHoose and Shane Grim, but their ace on the mound Austin Lyons returns along with firery second baseman Zach Vialpando. You add the bat of Seth Rice and the spirited play of Jake Cyrus and Patrick Butcher, and this "younger" Tigers team is a force to be reckoned with. Thursday, they defeated Hazard in an emotion packed game to once again find themselves playing at Applebee's Park next weekend for a chance at the All "A" State championship.
Right down the road is Johnson Central. They are currently 11-6. Their key wins include Pikeville, Letcher Central and Belfry. Over the last couple of years, the Golden Eagles have lost some serious talent. Pitching studs Adam Blanton and Matt Fyffe are no longer there, but Mike Conley, Chase Richardson, and Ian Welch are all there and were on the team when Johnson Central made their run at state two years ago.
And then finally, creeping up on everyone is Belfry, currently holding down a 10-4 record, their key wins are to Pikeville and Letcher, (The reason why I keep bringing Letcher up because they were one of the favorites in the 14th region to start the year).
So what once was a one team race out of the 15th now has at least 4 teams showing that the 15th Region could be wide open this year.
But its not how you start, its how you finish.