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For such a young team, losing a plethora of close games has been somewhat demoralizing for the LaRue County Hawks.
Thanks to senior Kody Key-Close, the host Hawks finally got one to go their way Monday.
Facing a five-man infield, Key-Close’s line drive to center field was just over the outstretched glove of North Hardin sophomore A.J. Morales to score freshman Cameron Dawson and give LaRue County a 3-2 walkoff win in nine innings.
“I was just trying to get the ball somewhere in play because even if it’s a grounder, he can still get in,” Key-Close said. “I was just trying to put it somewhere where they couldn’t make a play at home — that was my main objective.”
Dawson doubled down the left-field line to lead off the bottom of the ninth, and he moved to third on sophomore Chandler Lynn’s sacrifice bunt.
At that point, North Hardin coach Ace Adcock called in Morales from center field to play on the edge of the infield grass, citing what the Tampa Bay Rays and manager Joe Maddon typically do with less than two outs and the winning run on third.
It nearly worked to perfection, but Key-Close ripped the 2-2 pitch to deal the Trojans (19-12) their third loss in four games.
“Really, if (Morales is) three or four steps back, it works out perfectly,” Adcock said. “If he’s back, that ball falls in anyway. It’s a risk worth taking.”
Before the win, LaRue County (9-21) was just 2-13 in games decided by three runs or less, including seven one-run losses in its last 16 games.
So pulling out a game in which it went more than six innings without a hit and weren’t able to get senior Dylon Hedgespeth a win despite eight innings of two-run ball, the Hawks just felt like they were due.
“I just kept telling the guys to hang in there, keep playing close games and we’ll get it turned around,” said LaRue County coach Eric Allen. “We’re young -- we just have to figure out how to win these things.”
Eighth-grader Jaxon Boley threw a 1-2-3 ninth inning to earn the victory.
“You’ve got to have the (right) mindset there, and he did,” Hedgespeth said. “That’s big for an eighth-grader to be a leader on the mound like that.”
The Hawks looked like they were going to have a big evening at the plate after freshman Matheo Lynn (2-for-4) singled to lead off the first and junior Koy Lindsey followed with a double that one-hopped the fence in left to drive Lynn in. Chandler Lynn’s single to right-center field scored Lindsey’s courtesy runner, eighth-grader Bryson Cobb, for a 2-0 lead.
But North Hardin starter Lance Baker settled in from there, at one point retiring 14 straight and 20-of-22, with the two Hawks base runners both coming via errors. Baker suffered the loss after throwing 8 1/3 innings and striking out eight while walking none. He gave up just six hits.
“The first inning, he had good stuff but wasn’t throwing the pitches he needed to early in the count,” Adcock said. “He made an adjustment from there on out and really settled in and dominated. He really settled in and competed, gave us a chance to win the game.”
The Trojans got on the board in the fifth when sophomore Justin Davis led off with a bunt single, stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on junior Blake Yates’ sacrifice fly.
North Hardin drew even in the top of the seventh. Baker hit a leadoff single to right and moved to third when Hedgespeth threw away Davis’ sacrifice bunt, putting runners at second and third with none out.
Though the Trojans eventually tied the game on Morales’ sacrifice fly, the damage could have been worse.
The next pitch after Hedgeseth’s throwing error, North Hardin tried a squeeze play but Hedgespeth alertly tossed to Lindsey at home to get the out. Hedgespeth said he heard the infielders and bench yelling for the bunt and that’s why he was able to recover so quickly.
“That’s what makes a good team, when you have good communication,” Hedgespeth said. “That what made it easy enough for me to give it (to Koy) right there.”
Hedgespeth, who threw 64 of his 115 pitches for strikes and allowed five hits, made his biggest pitches in the eighth. After a one-out walk to junior Trevor Vandermolen, the left-hander hit senior Sy Ogden. But Hedgespeth escaped the jam by getting junior Markus Bell to line into a 4-3 double play.
The Hawks have won four of their last five with only two games left before the 18th District Tournament begins Monday at Green County.
“It feels like we’re starting to peak,” Allen said, “and it’s the right time for that.”
LARUE COUNTY 3, NORTH HARDIN 2
North Hardin 000 010 100 2 5 2
LaRue County 200 000 001 3 6 2
Lance Baker and Graham Mathews. Dylon Hedgespeth, Jaxon Boley (9) and Koy Lindsey. WP: Boley. LP: Baker. 2B: Lindsey (LC), Cameron Dawson (LC).
UP NEXT: LaRue County plays at Elizabethtown at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. North Hardin hosts Meade County at 5:30 p.m. today.
Ryan O’Gara can be reached at 270-505-1754 or firstname.lastname@example.org.