LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
LEXINGTON—Heading into Thursday’s Elite Eight game against South Warren, South Laurel coach Wynn Harris received some advanced scouting on the Spartans.
“We heard that they had trouble with left-handers,” Harris said.
With that in mind, Harris chose to go with Austin Vigeant. The senior southpaw started the season strong but was derailed midway through with an arm injury. Still, Harris felt like this was the right move.
While there were some dicey moments, Vigeant proved his coach right, as he hurled a five-hitter as South Laurel advanced to the Final Four with a 4-1 win in the Rawlings/KHSAA Baseball State Tournament at Whitaker Bank Ballpark in Lexington. With the win, Vigeant improved to 6-0 on the season with a 0.29 earned run average.
Harris admitted there were times he toyed with taking Vigeant out, but elected to stay with him. The Spartans left six runners on base and twice Vigeant got out of a jam thanks to key double plays.
“There was always the thought to pull him but I kept an eye on the score,” Harris said. “Had they pulled closer to us I might have replaced him. I had Daniel (Neal) and Zach (Allen) ready to go. But Vigeant did what he has done for us all season.”
The game was originally scheduled for Wednesday night, but was postponed until Thursday afternoon due to weather. Harris said that day delay wasn’t a concern.
“We just wanted to keep them in their routine,” Harris said. “Keep it as normal as we could.”
South Warren started Ty Pitts, but replaced him after the first inning with Jacob Smiley. But Pitts came back in with the bases loaded in the second inning, an inning that saw the Cardinals strike for two runs. Wes King came in at the top of the third and pitched the remainder of the game. Harris said the continual switching of pitchers didn’t really have an effect on his team.
“We really didn’t have a game plan on the opposing team,” Harris said “I just told them to stay with what we do and concentrate on what we do best. We can only control what we do. We weren’t flawless—we made three errors—but we have a resolve to not let it build on us.”
With one out in the top of the second, Braden Miller and Taylor Morris drew walks, and Brennan Miller singled to load the bases and chase Pitts from the game. After Smiley struck out Derek Spurlock, Vigeant helped himself with a single just over the head of the shortstop, scoring Tucker Martin (running for Miler) and Morris to make it 2-0.
The Cards added two more runs in the top of the third to up the lead to 4-0.
Neal led off the inning by drawing a walk off of King. He then came home when Allen laced a double down the left field line. Allen scored on a double to right by Brennan Miller.
In the bottom of the inning, with one out, Morris made a spectacular diving catch in center to rob Ryder Litten of a base hit. In the fourth, South Warren had the first two batters on, but Vigeant got King to force a runner at third, then a 4-6-3 double play ended the inning.
The Spartans scored their lone run in the fifth inning to cut South’s lead to 4-1. South Warren had runners on in the sixth and seventh but Vigeant shut them down to preserve the win.
Now the Cards advanced to the Final Four, the first Laurel County team to do so since 1976.
“We’re excited and happy to represent our community and school,” Harris said. “When we got up here we wondered if we belonged. Now we know we do. To win in a tournament you’ve got to play well and be a little lucky.”
For the Cards, it was their third straight 4-1 win. They beat Corbin by that score in the finals of the 13th Region, and then beat Scott by 4-1 in the opening round of the state tournament.
“This is my wildest dream,” Harris said. “This is emotional for me. I look up in the stands and see Trey and Judy (Smith, the son and wife of the late G.J. Smith). I kept thinking what would Coach Smith do? I miss him a lot.”
The win advanced the Cards to the Final Four and a date with Simon Kenton.