A big seven-run seventh inning in Monday night’s regional semifinals secured the Vikings’ third straight trip to the finals.
“We were in a dog fight. Their pitcher kept us off balance until that last inning there. Once we were able to get a few, we started getting a few more. We wanted to get as many as we could because Boyd County is a good ball club. You don’t want them hanging around close in a close game. We were fortunate to have that big inning,” said Coach Scott Collins.
The score was 8-0 before Boyd County’s final at bat and with AJ Hacker on the mound, the Vikings felt confident they would live to see another day.
“Anytime we have him on the mound, we are confident with him. Yeah, he put a few runners on, but he takes that personal. Anytime there is a runner on, he buckles down and has that bulldog mentality. Just another typical night for AJ,” said Collins.
Hacker threw a complete game. He gave up zero runs on two hits, struck out 10 and walked four. Monday night’s game was his last regional appearance on the mound for the Vikings.
“It was and exciting, but obviously I had to treat it like any other regular season game, just go out compete for my team as they do for me,” said Hacker. “And once we put seven on them in the seventh inning, everything was off me. I just did what I am good at, getting the outs.”
Aiden Leuenberger, pinch hitter for Mason Moore, got the bats going in the seventh when he doubled on a line drive to center field. He scored the Vikings’ second run when Matthew Gagliano reached first on error.
“We tell our guys know your role. Be ready to go when your number is called. That is what Aiden did today. He stepped up and did his job. Got a double and got the thing started,” said Collins.
Nick Eastham doubled on a hard ground ball that jumped over third baseman Hunter Morgan allowing Ryan Mullen and Gagliano to score. He slid safely into home when Shane Taylor reached first on a dropped third strike.
Hacker’s RBI double to centerfield drove in Taylor for a fifth run and Corey Binion’s two-run homer over right field rounded out the night’s scoring. Binion’s second home run of the night was the Vikings’ 25th of the season.
“I haven’t been hitting the ball really well, so it feels good to have made solid contact. On both of them, I wasn’t trying to hit it out more than I was just trying to hit the ball hard. But when you hit the ball hard, it will go out. That’s how I look at it,” said Binion.
It was an eventful evening for the Vikings’ senior catcher. On a first pitch, Binion sent one sailing over right field in the top of the fourth.
“I saw that pitch and my eyes got huge. It was a fast ball high in the zone and I knew I was going to swing at it. It was just timing it up. He (pitcher Austin Mullins) did a good job of switching up speeds. He kept us off balance until the top of the fourth, so I just knew if I saw a fast ball, all I would have to do is time it up, barrel it up. I knew it would go somewhere,” said Binion.
However, after hitting the home run that put the Vikings on the board, he gave the crowd quite a fright when he went down after blocking a wild pitch that bounced before the plate and snuck under his helmet hitting him point-blank in the throat. The crowd was silent as Binion remained on the ground trying to reorient himself.
“I have been hit by a lot of baseballs. That one I wasn’t sure I was going to get up from,” said Binion.
“When it hit my neck everything went numb. I knew something was really wrong. It hit my throat and I couldn’t talk because of where it hit. It wasn’t until they poured water on me that I really understood what anyone was saying. I am not gonna say it knocked me out, but I wasn’t all there,” said Binion.
Meanwhile, Moore realized the play was not dead and swooped in from first base to catch Bryce Carley stealing third.
“That was huge play for us, because if that guy gets on third, who knows? He may score and we may have a different outcome on the ball game. Great play on Mason’s behalf,” said Collins.
After the play, the training staff and coaches rushed onto the field to check on Binion. It took him a few minutes to return to his feet, but continued to play all seven innings.
“It showed his toughness today. He took a ball in the throat and battle through that. He has a nasty welt there neck to his Adam’s apple but he fought through it. It was great to see him stay in the game,” said Collins.
His desire to continue was fueled by another chance at a regional title.
“I want to win so bad. It’s my last season and I want everyone on the field to feel the feeling of winning the region. To ride the bus back with a cop car and a fire truck. I wanted to do everything in my power to get us to that championship game,” said Binion.
The Vikings played Ashland in the regional finals Tuesday night.