The Streak is dead.
Long live The Streak.
Ashland’s Evan Dickison scored from third base on a wild pitch in the first inning of the 16th Region Tournament final on Tuesday, which was big news because Rowan County hadn’t conceded anything in 46 innings and a state-record seven games before that.
An hour and 36 minutes later, it didn’t matter. The Tomcats came up with two runs, but the Vikings tallied their 12th on Nick Eastham’s RBI single in the bottom of the fifth to secure a run-rule victory at Raceland.
It was Rowan County’s 30th consecutive win and sends the Vikings to the semi-state round of postseason play on Saturday at Morehead State.
“It’s the first time we’d (allowed) a run in seven games, so I was honestly curious how we were gonna respond,” Rowan County coach Scott Collins said. “We were consistent through the second, third and fourth innings.
“Resilient bunch. Played really well all year long, and I didn’t expect anything less than that. Really, really proud of them.”
Vikings senior AJ Hacker was selected the tournament’s MVP in media polling. He went 5 for 7 at the plate, drove in four runs and scored four in the three-game event, including a 2-for-2 showing with two runs Tuesday, and he threw a two-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts to beat Boyd County in the semifinal.
Hacker also provided the did-you-see-that defensive play from first base that swung momentum in the title game. The Tomcats had tied it, 2-2, in the top of the third on Richie Hall’s run-scoring single and still had two runners on base with no outs when Ashland’s Scott Busch lifted a high fly ball foul past the Tomcats’ dugout along the first-base line, seemingly bound for the Ashland supporters’ bleachers behind a fence.
Until Hacker skied with his back to the field of play, reached over the fence and gloved the ball for the first out of the inning.
“I’ve definitely thought about a play like that my whole life,” the Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year said. “Jumping at the fence and catching the ball, that’s pretty crazy. They kept saying, ‘It’s out, it’s out,’ but I was up on the fence. I didn’t even realize I jumped at the fence to catch it.”
Quick-witted Tomcats coach David Greene had a typically comical response to the play.
“As a coach, I hated to see him make the play, but as a human being, I think he saved three of our fans sitting over there, so can’t complain too bad,” Greene said. “That’s about as athletic of a high school baseball play I’ve seen. That’s a tough one to live with right there.”
After Hacker’s sensational grab, Vikings pitcher Mason Moore got an out against every Ashland hitter he faced the rest of the game, ending the mercy-rule-shortened contest by garnering nine consecutive outs.
Moore allowed two runs — one earned — on three hits and two walks, both in the first inning. He struck out eight Tomcats.
“I’m not saying anything bad about umpires; every umpire has a different (strike) zone, and you just gotta figure it out,” Rowan County senior catcher Corey Binion said. “Mason let a few on base, he got a little shook, but that’s OK. He came back and he did his job. He did what a pitcher does. Credit to him, he did a great job.”
Moore took a shot off his left (non-pitching) wrist from Dickison’s sharply hit ground ball. He rallied to get the out at first to end the top of the fourth, but came off the field shaking his left hand.
Moore was fine to work the fifth inning, and Collins doesn’t expect any lingering effects, he said.
“It kinda stung him up into his forearm a little bit, but he’s a competitor,” Collins said of the sophomore. “He’s gonna battle, and that’s what we expected out of him.”
Rowan County led 6-2 entering the home half of the fifth and hung a six-spot to end it early.
Chase Alderman blooped a single that barely found grass over a drawn-in Tomcats infield for an RBI, Aiden Leuenberger worked a bases-loaded walk and Ryan Mullen singled home two more. Leuenberger motored home on a wild pitch to make it 11-2.
Binion, who was warming up in the bullpen to relieve Moore, took notice.
“We’re like, ‘Oh shoot, it’s 11-2. If (Eastham) hits a base hit right here, we’ve won this game,’” Binion said. “So I threw one last fastball, I got to the edge, and we were ready to beeline in here.”
That’s exactly what the rest of the Vikings did after Eastham grounded the ball past Ashland’s diving third baseman to score Mullen and end it. The mob from the dugout caught up with Eastham near second base.
Rowan County (38-3) got revenge on the only 16th Region team it has lost to this season. The Tomcats knocked off the Vikings and Moore, 3-1, in both teams’ second game of the year on March 19.
“It means so much more because they beat us pretty early in the season,” Hacker said. “To come back and put up a 12-spot on them means a lot to our guys.”
Shane Taylor was 2 for 3 for Rowan County. Taylor, Hacker, Alderman and Leuenberger scored two runs apiece. Binion drove in two runs on a second-inning sacrifice fly — Hacker trotted home from third and Devon Stevens tagged from second, rounded third and scored when Ashland’s center fielder fell down after catching the ball.
Rowan County scored multiple runs in every inning except the first, using waves of baserunners to torture Tomcat pitching.
“That’s what they do to you. They’re really good at that,” Greene said. “There’s just no holes in their lineup. They hit from top to bottom, they don’t swing at pitches out of the zone and they just make it hard on you. You are constantly under pressure on the defensive side of the ball with that lineup.”
Rowan County will meet 15th Region champion Lawrence County in the semi-state round on Saturday.