The Rowan County Vikings defeated the Lawrence County Bulldogs in the first round of the Semi-State Tournament held right in their backyard at Morehead State University Saturday afternoon.
“It was a lot better than going somewhere else. We had a heck of a crowd and we knew we would. The community has been behind us all year. We had half of Morehead here today. The kids fed off of that. It was electric,” said Coach Scott Collings.
Behind an outstanding performance from AJ Hacker, the Vikings shut out the Bulldogs 5-0, their eighth shutout in 10 games.
It was a big day for the Rowan County senior. It was his second appearance at the state tournament, and his first live game on his future home field. The pressure didn’t get to him.
“I had to shut everything out, face one batter at a time and play the game like I know how to. I had to fill it up with a lot of strikes, and if they could hit me, they could hit me,” said Hacker.
Hacker pitched a complete game throwing all seven innings. He gave up zero runs on two hits, walked zero and committed no errors.
“AJ has brought that all year. The bigger the game, the bigger AJ is going to step up. There might have been something behind playing on his college field but it wouldn’t matter if we were down in Salt Lick playing. He is going to bring his A game and give it all he has got,” said Collins.
Hacker did more than just throw strikes. Hacker was one-for-three at the plate for three RBIs.
“We knew what we had with AJ on the mound, but we knew that if AJ stepped up this year with the bat, we would have a really successful year. That is what he is doing,” said Collins.
He batted in the first runner, Matthew Gagliano, when he reached first on error in the bottom of the first inning. Gagliano was in place for the run after hitting a single as the Vikings’ leadoff.
Shane Taylor scored the second run after singling on a line drive to right field. He was batted in when Devon Stevens ground into a fielder’s choice at second.
“Putting a two up in the bottom of the first was huge for us. We didn’t want to hang around, hang around and wait until the bottom of the fifth inning to get something going,” said Collins.
The Vikings led 2-0 up until the sixth inning.
Mason Moore singled to start the inning and Nick Eastham and Taylor drew walks to load the bases.
Hacker hit three-run single to put the Vikings up five for his last inning on the mound. His line drive to right field had the crowd believing he had hit a grand slam until it hit 30 feet up a 40-foot net in right field.
“It shows them what they are going to be missing out on, but I am just going to keep hitting as much as I can while I can. I am just doing everything I can to help my team out on both sides, on the mound and of course at the place too,” said Hacker.
The Vikings advanced to the second round of the tournament Thursday at Whitaker Bank Ballpark. They take on the 1st Region champs McCracken County at 5:30 p.m.