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PREP BASEBALL: No. 1 Central shut out Panthers (4/26)

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By Chuck Jones

Central Hardin senior Gabe Hogan seemed to be right in the middle of the action Thursday night, while fellow senior Drew Harrington kept preventing the Elizabethtown Panthers from getting anything going.

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Hogan went 2-for-3 with two RBIs, Harrington tossed another shutout and the newly top-ranked Bruins rolled to a 5-0 victory over Elizabethtown in a 17th District game on Ron Myers Field at Panther Baseball Park.

“Gabe did well behind the plate and beside the plate,” Central Hardin coach Todd Thompson said. “You can’t tell from Gabe’s body language if he’s just struck out or hit a two-run single. He’s the most stoic kid I’ve ever coached. He just wants the team to do well. That’s just the type of kid he is. I couldn’t be happier for him.”

Central Hardin moved to No. 1 in the Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association Top 25, which was released Thursday. This marks the first time the Bruins have been ranked No. 1.

The Bruins (21-1, 7-0 district) locked up the top seed for the district tournament. They’ve won 34 consecutive games against district foes, including 11 over Elizabethtown during the streak.

“It’s huge to get the top seed,” Harrington said. “That was one of our goals at the start of the season. Now we can start to focus on our other goals.”

Hogan was a big reason why Central Hardin won its sixth straight since its only loss this season. In the fifth inning with one out, Hogan placed a perfect bunt to the right side for a single. Hogan’s courtesy runner, Ben Heideman, took third on a throwing error when senior Alex Crowder reached on a fielder’s choice and scored on senior Troy Squires’ grounder to stretch the lead to 3-0.

With one out in the sixth, junior Troy Riggs had an infield single and then freshman Justin Rouse and junior Bart Herrin reached on back-to-back bunt singles to load the bases. After an out, Hogan lined a two-run single to left-center field to build a 5-0 lead.

“At the bottom of the order, you see more quality pitches, which isn’t a bad thing,” Hogan said. “I usually don’t swing at a first-pitch curveball, but I saw it quick out of his hand. I was just trying to get Drew more runs for insurance. That means a lot to a pitcher.”

Not that Harrington needed it. The left-hander shut the Panthers down, allowing just two hits, five walks and one hit batter. Harrington struck out eight.

Besides a 1-2-3 inning in the second, Harrington managed to work out of trouble every inning. The Panthers left nine runners stranded, including two in the first, third and fifth innings.

“I could tell I was pretty tired when I was warming up,” Harrington said. “I didn’t have my legs under me. But my defense made some great plays. When you don’t have your best, you have to stay mentally focused. That’s what Coach Thompson always stresses to us.”

Harrington has become a thorn in the Panthers’ side, much like Joe Nash was in 2008. He is 2-0 against Elizabethtown this season, giving up just two hits and striking out 18 in 12 scoreless innings. In his career, Harrington is 3-0 with a save against the Panthers.

“It wasn’t his sharpest outing,” Thompson said. “We were going to start Josh (Krupinski), but he’s been sick the last few days. Drew did a good job. It’s a good matchup for him. They have seven lefties and he has good stuff. That’s a good combination.”

Senior Zach Ditto and Harrington supplied consecutive RBI singles in the first to stake the Bruins to a 2-0 lead.

Elizabethtown (14-6, 4-2) wasted a solid outing from sophomore Austin Freyberger, who gave up 10 hits – all singles – and four earned runs. He struck out three.

“I had to mix up my pitches more and I started throwing more curves as the game progressed,” Freyberger said. “They’re pretty solid from top to bottom. You can let down against them. You have to hit your spots.”

Hogan said Thompson has placed an emphasis on bunting in recent practices. Of the 10 singles, five didn’t leave the infield, including three bunts to the first-base side. Elizabethtown coach Don Pitts refused to blame his defense.

“To be honest, they were good bunts,” Pitts said. “I don’t think they could have rolled them to better spots. Even if we make adjustments, I don’t know if we get an out. It’s not about what we didn’t do. They executed. But I thought we battled this time. We fought more.”

Despite the loss, the Panthers were encouraged by their progress after getting pounded 10-0 in five innings in the first meeting.

“We have improved and we feel like we can stick with them if we play them in region or district,” Freyberger said. “It will be a close game with them. But they are a great team.”

Central HARDIN 5, ELIZABETHTOWN 0

                                              R  H  E

Central Hardin    200   012    0    510  0

Elizabethtown     000   000    0    0  2  1

Drew Harrington and Gabe Hogan. Austin Freyberger and Zeke Pinkham. WP: Harrington (6-0). LP: Freyberger (1-1).

UP NEXT: Elizabethtown plays at Louisville Fairdale at 5:30 p.m. today and at Thomas Nelson at 10 a.m. Saturday. Central Hardin plays at Louisville Male at 6 p.m. today and Lexington Catholic at 11 a.m. Saturday at Male in the Louisville Invitational Tournament.

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