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June 11, 2014

Direct Kick: Cards gave fans a thrilling ride

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — It’s been a very busy last few of weeks. A lot of hours worked and a lot of miles put on my vehicle with multiple trips to Whitley County, Harlan County and Lexington, but hey, it was worth it to get to watch South Laurel’s amazing post season run, culminating with a semifinal appearance in the state baseball tournament.

Yes, they were beaten out 11-1 by Simon Kenton in the semifinals, but that’s just a small part of the story. The team that fell to the Pioneers was not the same South Laurel team of the past month. Defense and pitching carried the Cardinals all season long, and unfortunately, those two key elements let them down against Simon Kenton. Six errors, including three in one inning certainly didn’t help the Cardinals in this game. Throw in a three hit batters to go along with 10 hits and you can see why these little things started to add up.

But let’s forget about that game. Let’s step back and think about what South Laurel did. They were the first county baseball team to advance to the semifinals since 1976, when the Laurel County Cardinals accomplished that feat. That was Roy Bowling’s last season as head baseball coach. Bowling would then take over the newly formed girls’ basketball team and become a legend in coaching in Kentucky with four state titles.

So it took 38 years for another county team to match that feat. That’s pretty amazing considering the great baseball teams we’ve had here since then, at Laurel County, South Laurel and North Laurel. But there was something special about this year’s team.

These young men had already known a tremendous amount of success in the baseball world, starting with Minor League All-Stars and advancing all the way through the high school ranks. Several players had state tournament experience in Little League. In fact, I watched these players as they grew up right before my eyes.

Not only did they grow up to be fine baseball players, they also became fine young men. And they love baseball. That’s evident with the success they have had. Many of these players only play baseball, and it shows. They are committed to their sport.

Senior Austin Vigeant said to me during the season that you have to have a good attitude to play baseball. And he’s right. Baseball can be the cruelest of sports. It’s almost like it is set up for failure. Despite what some might think, it is a very hard sport, and one that can play mind games.

The thing about this team is they all had a good attitude. Sure they would get upset when they didn’t get a hit or made an error, but that’s the competitiveness in them. When this team lost three straight games to Corbin late in the season, they could have folded. But they didn’t. They regrouped and got their revenge on the Redhounds, beating them 15-2 in the district finals and 4-1 in the region championship game.

And the bulk of this team returns next season. The Cards only lose Vigeant and Brennan Miller. Granted those are two big losses to fill. Vigeant went 6-0 on the mound despite having a shoulder injury midway through the season. His complete game against South Warren lifted the Cards into the semifinals. And Miller was the anchor of the outfield along with being a consistent batter at the plate and he could also be counted on to pitch when needed.

South Laurel will go into next season as the favorites to once again win the 13th Region title, and who knows, maybe, just maybe, they can take it one more game and advance to the state title game. After this season I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened.

I salute this year’s South Laurel Cardinals, both the players and the coaching staff. You guys represented Laurel County well and gave us all quite a thrilling ride.

sports@sentinel-echo.com

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