PREP BASEBALL: Central deals with pressure of being ranked No. 1 (4/29)

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By Chuck Jones

LOUISVILLE— The Central Hardin Bruins haven’t fared so well since landing atop the Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association poll for the first time.

The Bruins ascended to the top spot Thursday, and after beating Elizabethtown, they dropped back-to-back games for the first time this season. Granted, the losses came to No. 5 Louisville Male and No. 8 Lexington Catholic and both were in extra innings.

“I think we thought we were better than we are,” Central Hardin senior Drew Harrington said. “We thought we had a 5-0 lead going into every game. No one is scared of us. We need to keep working hard and remember what got us there.”

Being ranked the No. 1 team in the state puts a bull’s-eye on its back. That’s nothing new for the Bruins, who have been the team to beat in the 5th Region the last few years.

Central Hardin (21-3) has won 53 consecutive games against region teams, including 34 straight against 17th District teams, since a 5-3 loss to Elizabethtown on April 20, 2010. The Bruins’ last loss within the region against a non-17th District team came to Campbellsville on April 18, 2009.

“It put a target on our backs,” Central Hardin senior Alex Crowder said. “We know what that’s like, but everyone wants to beat the No. 1 team. At the beginning of the year, we didn’t talk about being No. 1. It was business as usual.”

The Bruins, who play the region’s most-challenging schedule, are in the midst of a brutal nine-day stretch. Starting with Elizabethtown last Thursday, they play five teams with winning records, including four ranked in the top eight. They host No. 4 Louisville Pleasure Ridge Park on Tuesday, John Hardin on Thursday and No. 2 Louisville St. Xavier on Friday.

Harrington said it could be a good thing the Bruins don’t have any time to dwell on the losses.

“This week we have three tough games,” Harrington said. “Hopefully this ticks us off. We need to go win some games and get things going back in the right direction. We have to keep working hard and get better.”

Central Hardin coach Todd Thompson said he was disappointed with how the team executed in the two losses over the weekend, but he hopes the string of tough opponents helps down the road.

“We have to learn how to play with that bull’s-eye,” Thompson said. “Of course, it gets bigger when you’re ranked No. 1 and everyone is going to bring their best game against you. The boys don’t really need to think about being ranked. They just need to play the game the way it needs to be played.

“Hopefully, we’ll learn from this,” he added. “We need to continue to get better. This string of games is like the postseason and we’ll just see how we respond.”

Outside of seniors Troy Squires and Gabe Hogan and juniors Troy Riggs and Josh Krupinski along with Harrington and Crowder, this was a new experience for several of Central Hardin’s younger players.

“We put them to the fire this weekend,” Thompson said. “Hopefully, they learned a few things. Time will tell.”

Although it was a frustrating weekend, the Bruins hope it serves as motivation the rest of the season.

“It tests the character of a team,” Squires said. “The three games we lost, we should have won. But it’s how you handle adversity. We’ll bounce back and we’ll learn from these games. This is only going to help us get better.”

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