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It shouldn’t come as a surprise the team the 17th District coaches tabbed as the favorite is also favored to win the 5th Region. As one coach put it, the region runs through the 17th District.
It’s hard to argue with his logic. A 17th District team has won the last nine region championships, and of those nine, five were all-17th finals. The 17th District has claimed 21 of the last 24 championships and 34 of the last 39.
Since a three-year title dry spell from 2001-03, the 17th District has come back with a vengeance. Central Hardin has won four times, Elizabethtown three and North Hardin two.
Central Hardin has been the dominant team, winning four consecutive district championships and three straight region titles. District coaches believe they will be the frontrunner once again.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Elizabethtown coach Don Pitts said. “They have arguably the best pitcher in the region and one of the best players in the region. They keep getting better.”
“There’s no doubt they’re the favorite,” John Hardin coach Greg Gumm said. “They have a lot of experience and depth and they have two good pitchers. They play good defense and hit the ball well.”
The Bruins understand they have a target on their back, but it’s no different than previous years.
“We talk about it and we understand what it’s like to be in this spot,” Central Hardin senior Drew Harrington said. “We’ve been there and we know what it’s like.”
The pressure that comes with being the favorite has fueled the Bruins. Instead of wilting, they continue to thrive under the constant pressure.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Central Hardin senior Troy Squires said. “I’d rather have it that way than the other. We know it’s going to be tough. Nothing is going to be given to us. Every team is going to come after us hard every game.”
The Bruins have won 27 consecutive games against district teams since losing to Elizabethtown on April 20, 2010. But that means little going into this season.
“I think the 17th is going to be tough,” Central Hardin coach Todd Thompson said. “E’town is going to be much improved. They have several guys back that have thrown for them. (North Hardin coach) Ace (Adcock) is doing a good job and they’re going to be dangerous. John Hardin is a Greg Gumm-coached team, so they’re going to know baseball and be a good team.”
Getting through the 17th District is no easy task. It seems like there are landmines to dodge each and every week. The district standings can change from week to week, but the goal is to be one of the two teams standing at the end.
“The 17th District is a rat race,” Adcock said. “You have to play really well. Central Hardin is the team to beat. But E’town’s going to be a whole lot better than last year. John Hardin has Dale (Gumm), who can beat anyone on a given night. It’s going to be so competitive, but it’s always that way.”
Outside the 17th, LaRue County and Green County figure to be the top two teams in the 18th District. Both have a top-flight pitcher in LaRue County senior Cole Hughes and Green County senior Brennen Milby.
Washington County and Bethlehem advanced to the region tournament last year from the 19th District, while many feel like Nelson County will be improved with the return of Coach Kelly Wood.
The 20th District is up for grabs as Adair County, Campbellsville, Marion County and Taylor County could all be in the mix.
“It seems like we’ve said it the last four years, but with Milby on the mound, Green’s as good as anyone,” Pitts said. “Bethlehem’s going to be really good. You can’t count out LaRue County. Washington and Taylor are usually there. I still think it goes through the 17th.”
Last year was a good year for baseball as two area teams advanced to the state tournament for the first time. Besides Central Hardin, Meade County won the 3rd Region Tournament. The Green Wave have won three of the last four 11th District championships under Coach Todd Clanton.
“From top to bottom, this is the most competitive the district’s been in awhile,” Clanton said. “Typically all roads in the region run through the 9th District. All four of those teams are going to be tough. Grayson County probably has the deepest pitching in the region and Muhlenberg County returns a lot of players.”
Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or email@example.com.