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While it may have been Kentucky Derby Saturday in the rest of the state, for the Carroll County Panthers, Saturday, May 3, was all about baseball. The Panthers shot out of the gate and jumped on top early against Hancock County, eventually winning 8-1 to advance to the semifinals Sunday of the All ‘A’ state tournament, held at Whitaker Bank Park in Lexington, Ky.
Junior Zakk Hicks blasted a three-run home run over the wall in left-center field in the top of the first. He also earned the win on the mound, throwing no-hit baseball for four innings. He struck out 10 batters and gave up just two hits and four walks in six innings.
“I feel like I could run back to Carrollton, I’m so wound up,” head coach Jimmy Ray said with a wide grin on his face immediately after the win. “I feel great. We played a very good game. Once again, Zakk, he got a little tired there at the end, but before that he went [four] innings of no-hit baseball and one walk and he swung pretty nice. That ball he hit was an absolute kill. We had several good hits, and we jumped on them early and gave ourselves a chance. We had a lot of momentum. We didn’t finish up real strong, but we did what we needed to do.”
Fellow junior Austin Dunn got things going for the Panthers in the top of the first, hitting a double into left center. Seth Hicks followed with a grounder to the shortstop, who elected to throw to third base to try and get Dunn out. However, the throw was wide and Dunn scored on a bang-bang play at home plate to give Carroll County their first run.
“Austin got a big hit to get us going in the first inning,” Ray said. “We got lucky that first inningbecause I messed up. I should have sent Austin for a triple, and I was a little conservative. Then I sent him home and I shouldn’t have and, luckily, he was safe.”
Keifer McIntyre was hit by a pitch, putting two runners on for Zakk Hicks’ home run. “I think that just got everybody relaxed,” Ray said. “That’s probably the best ball I’ve ever seen him hit before. That was out of here in a hurry. This ain’t no Panther Field; that’s a pretty good shot.”
In the top of the third, Seth Hicks and McIntyre drew leadoff walks. Zakk Hicks flew out to left, but advanced his brother to third. McIntyre attempted to steal second and was picked off, but it allowed Seth Hicks to steal home, 5-0.
The Hornets walked the next three batters – Taylor Hill, John Michael Adams and Jackson “Boo” Donahue – to load the bases for Jacob Wise. Wise hit a grounder up the middle for an RBI. The Hornets attempted to throw Donahue out at second base, allowing Adams to score, 7-0.
Zakk Hicks struck out the side in the bottom of the third, bringing the Panthers back up to the plate. Dunn walked and Seth Hicks hit a fly ball to the shortstop that was dropped for an error. McIntyre walked to load the bases for Zakk Hicks, forcing the Hornets head coach to the mound for a talk. Zakk Hicks hit a grounder to shortstop for a fielder’s choice play, but it was enough to score courtesy runner Alex Burns, 8-0.
Hancock County got its first hit of the game in the bottom of the fifth with a leadoff single between first and second base. After forcing a fly out to Donahue in right, Zakk Hicks walked the next two batters to load the bases. He struck out a batter, but walked another for the Hornets’ first run of the game. But he rebounded, forcing a fly out to Donahue to end the inning.
Justin Ray and Dunn hit leadoff singles in the top of the sixth, but the Panthers could not capitalize on their efforts. In the bottom of the sixth, the Hornets hit a leadoff single. Zakk Hicks struck out the next batter looking. The third batter hit a shot down the first base line that was snagged by first baseman McIntyre for the second out of the inning. The next batter flew out to Wise in left field to end the inning.
“Keifer made a fantastic play,” Ray said. “I don’t think anybody in the stadium knew he caught it. He said he didn’t know he caught it! ... It was a heck of a catch, and he’s been playing great at first base all year.”
Evan McMahan hit a leadoff single in the top of the seventh, but was also left stranded. Adams closed out the game on the mound. He forced two groundouts to McMahan at shortstop for the first two outs before giving up one hit and one walk. But it was not enough for the Hornets as their last batter, fittingly, popped up to Zakk Hicks at second base to end the game.
Ray said this was one of those games where everyone positively contributed to the win. “Evan McMahan made some nice plays out there, a freshman out there. A lot of good things happened. I thought Austin caught a good game behind the dish, blocking balls real well. Boo made some nice plays out in the outfield.
“It’s like I said all year: this is a very good team; everybody works together, everybody gets along and everybody did something to contribute to the win. The kids in the dug out were fired up, it was awesome.”
Three seniors – Adams, McIntyre and Wise – almost did not play in the game, as they were in New York on their senior trip. But they decided to fly home so that they could compete in the All ‘A.’
“It was huge,” Ray said of having the seniors. The players, along with teacher/chaperone Lynn Eaglin, had to be at the airport at 3:30 a.m. Saturday to catch their flight. “I know they’re tired, and you could tell they were tired. They got a little bit of sleep on the plane, but they gut it up for this game right here, and hopefully they go to bed early tonight and are ready to go tomorrow. It was great for them to come back because we don’t win that game without them; it’s as simple as that. They’re a big part of our team, they’re our leaders and they did a good job for us.”
Ray also thanked Eaglin for her help getting the seniors back in time for the game. “I emailed her the other day at school, and I said, ‘Thank you very much for taking the time and offering to do that for these kids. This is something they’ve worked for and dreamed about and giving them the chance to do that, I appreciate that.’ We do; that was big of her to do that.”