PREP BASEBALL: Bruins shooting for fifth straight title (05/20)

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By Chuck Jones

The Central Hardin Bruins are in a situation they've seen several times the last few years. The Bruins go into the postseason with a huge target on their backs.

The Bruins went undefeated in the 17th District regular season for a third consecutive year. They have won 35 consecutive games against district teams with their last loss coming to Elizabethtown on April 20, 2010.

“We always have had that target on us,” Central Hardin senior Alex Crowder said. “We try to feed off that and teams wanting to beat us. We just have to play our game.”

Central Hardin has an opportunity to do what has only been accomplished by one team (Elizabethtown) in the district, and that is win five consecutive district championships. The Panthers won six straight from 1974-79 and again from 1983-88.

“We’d like to go out on a good note,” Central Hardin senior Drew Harrington said. “That would be really special to do since not many teams have done it.”

But the Bruins (27-5) realize how difficult the postseason can be. Even though they’ve been to the district final seven of the last eight years, they’re not taking anything for granted.

“We don’t pay attention to any of that,” Central Hardin senior Troy Squires said. “We have the same mindset as we’ve had in previous years. Everyone has a record of 0-0. We’re going to take it one game at a time.”

Central Hardin’s first game will come Tuesday in the district semifinals. The Bruins play the winner of the John Hardin-Fort Knox game, which kicks off the tournament at 5:30 p.m. today at Central Hardin.

The Bruins have had a challenging schedule, playing 20 games against teams with a winning record. They are 15-5 in those games. Central Hardin is the only team in the district with a winning mark against teams .500 or better.

“I think we’re as prepared as we can be,” Central Hardin coach Todd Thompson said. “We have been tested each and every day. We need to do the things defensively and offensively that we’ve been doing all year. We’re prepared for this. We just have to come ready to play.”

While Central Hardin has been sitting atop the district, Elizabethtown has reached nine consecutive district finals, including wining four, but its last one came in 2008. Dethroning the Bruins won’t be easy, though, for anyone.

“There’s no doubt they are the favorite,” Elizabethtown coach Don Pitts said. “When you can roll out not one but two or three guys like they can, that’s tough. They’ve been there before. They’re playing at home. They are the hands-down favorite.”

Pitts has been pleased with his team’s progression this season, especially considering the Panthers usually start three sophomores and a freshman.

“I think we’ve swung the bats well,” Pitts said. “I don’t know how that’s going to translate to next week. Our defense has gotten better. I feel like we’ve gloved it well. I feel like we’ve improved a lot this season.”

The Panthers (23-10) had won nine of their previous 12 before falling Friday night to South Warren. They managed only one run in the loss after averaging 10 runs a game during the 12-game stretch.

“We have to completely forget about this one,” Elizabethtown sophomore catcher Zeke Pinkham said. “We didn’t win, but we just have to move on. This isn’t going to have any impact on Tuesday night. That’s the most important game of the season.”

Elizabethtown plays North Hardin at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the second semifinal. The Panthers swept the regular-season series against the Trojans, winning 4-1 on March 28 and 9-1 on April 23, but that means little to Pitts.

“They put the ball in play and they have the ability to score runs,” Pitts said. “They play hard and they are very capable of advancing. We’re going to have to play well to win, but that’s the way it ought to be.”

The Trojans (17-15) haven’t played in a district final since winning it in 2006. It’s been even longer for John Hardin and Fort Knox. The Bulldogs have never played in a district title game since opening in 2001, while the Eagles haven’t been in the final since 1982.

All the coaches agree it’s going to come down to pitching and that might be where the Bruins have the edge over the rest of the district. Central Hardin’s staff has an 0.84 ERA with 16 shutouts. Opponents have scored 36 runs, including only eight by district teams.

“It’s hard to predict something like that,” Thompson said of his staff. “That’s what happens when you throw strikes and let your defense make plays behind you. That’s a total team effort. That’s what it takes to win.”

Chuck Jonescan be reached at (270) 505-1759 or cjones@thenewsenterprise.com.