Tigers defeat defending state champion West Jessamine
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Heading into the bottom of the seventh inning with the score tied at 2-2 and his No. 8 hitter coming up in Saturday’s first state quarterfinal, St. Xavier High School baseball coach Andy Porta nearly pinch-hit for Sam Mudd.
He’s sure happy he didn’t.
That’s because the diminutive junior outfielder led off the last of the seventh with a walk-off home run – his first of the season – to give the Tigers a 3-2 win over West Jessamine in the Rawlings/KHSAA State Tournament at Whitaker Bank Ballpark in Lexington.
“Honestly, we were debating about hitting for Mudd,” Porta admitted afterward. “It was like, ‘Do we roll the dice with him?’ (The assistant coaches and I) were going back and forth, finally we said, ‘Let’s let him go.’
“And I’m glad we did.”
With its 10th straight win St. X (27-12) advances to the state semifinals, where it will face the McCracken County-Johnson Central winner at 6 p.m. Friday.
Saturday’s matchup between the past two state champions (the Colts won it all last year after the Tigers did so in 2014), as well as the teams ranked Nos. 12 and 16 in the final Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association’s Top 20, was one-sided most of the way. That’s because lower-ranked St. X dominated the first six innings behind a near-perfect pitching performance from senior southpaw Adam Elliott. The University of Louisville signee retired 18 of the first 19 hitters he faced, giving up only a meek nubber off the bat of Spencer Blancet in the top of the second.
The Tigers then took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second frame.
Dalton Dedas led off with a single up the middle before giving way to courtesy runner Brandon Tucker. The freshman stole second, then moved to third on Chris Esselman’s single through the left side. The next hitter, Mudd, laid down a perfect safety-squeeze bunt to score Tucker. Esselman scored moments later when Zeke Porta’s hot shot handcuffed Colts second baseman Seth Taylor, resulting in an error.
For awhile it looked like that was going to be all Elliott would need. He struck out three of the first five hitters, then retired 13 in a row after Blancet’s single.
But then came the top of the seventh.
“We are who we are, we’re never going to quit,” said West Jessamine coach Jody Hamilton, whose team finished the season 32-9. “We’d won 15 straight postseason games, that’s a school record. I knew we weren’t done, even though it didn’t look very good.”
Tucker Greer led off the inning with a double down the third-base line before the next batter, Ryan Layne, hit back to Elliott. The pitcher spun around and threw to second, freezing Greer between second and third. However Greer escaped the rundown, eluding a would-be tag on his way to third. Elliott struck out the next hitter, Jonathan Jackson, before Layne stole second. Taylor followed with a line-drive single to left field to score Greer, and move Layne to third. Moments later Blancet’s sacrifice fly scored Layne to tie the game. Elliott hit the next batter, Hunter Noble, but struck out Josh Johnson to end the threat.
That set the stage for the 5-foot-7, 150-pound Mudd (“For a little man he’s got a lot of power. In BP he can take a few balls far,” Elliott said), who entered the state tournament hitting .250.
“I was just thinking, ‘I’ve got to get up there and get on base any way I can,’” Mudd said. “It was a 2-1 count and he’d thrown three fastballs so far, so I was sitting fastball. I knew he had to come to me because he didn’t want to put me on. I got a fastball up and in, and I drove it to left field.”
The ball easily cleared the left-field fence, which is 320 feet at the foul pole, and set off a wild St. X celebration.
“I’m sitting in the dugout and I saw him hit the ball. Everybody kind of went quiet and looked out and I saw the ball flying, I knew it was gone,” said Elliott, who gave up two earned runs on three hits while striking out nine in the win. “It was really just unbelievable, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Neither had Hamilton.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever been beaten on a walk-off home run in 34 years of coaching, so it hurts. It’s really painful right now, but we had some good times,” he said, fighting back tears, afterward.
The Tigers, meanwhile, hope to keep their good times going.
“We’ve got to win two more,” Mudd said. “We’re not done yet.”
West Jessamine (32-9) 000 000 2 – 2 3 1
St. Xavier (27-12) 020 000 1 – 3 9 0
WP: Adam Elliott (5-2) (7 IP, 3H, 2R, 0BB, 9K). LP: Tucker Greer (3-3) (0 IP, 1H, 1R).
West Jessamine: Tucker Greer (1-3, 2B, 1R), Seth Taylor (1-3, 1RBI), Spencer Blancet (1-2, 1RBI).
St. Xavier: Sam Mudd (2-2, HR, 1RBI, 1R), Samuel Hedges (2-3), Christopher Esselman (2-3, 1R), Dalton Dedas (1-3).