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19th DISTRICT BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIP: McGill golden in pitching Cards to the title

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NC pitchers toss 3 straight shutouts in district play

By Peter W. Zubaty, Sports Editor

Nelson County came into the postseason as the No. 4 seed in the 19th District, but the Cardinals played like they were the favorites all along, shutting out three straight opponents to win the school’s first district title since 2010.

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Dominic Lawson, one of 10 seniors on the Cardinals’ squad, said it was a sweet win to savor.

“It’s amazing. … None of us has ever played in a district championship,” he said. “Words can’t describe it. It’s great. It’s unbelievable.”

Bardstown was Nelson County’s latest victim, and the player who dealt the Tigers’ title hopes a death blow, was junior right-hander Benton McGill, who baffled the opposition on their home field Thursday, 5-0.

“Whenever you hit spots and locate pitches well, and then you’ve got good ‘D’ behind you, it’s easy for me to go out there and throw strikes,” McGill said.

The win was a special one for Nelson coach David Sparrow, who returned to the head-coaching ranks after being an assistant for a few years, taking over just two months before the start of the season because of the resignation of former coach Kelly Wood.

Sparrow said the team has taken on a motto of “One Heartbeat” in a sign of unity, and they dedicated the rest of the season to their senior leader Dylan Jones, who was lost for the season after nearly losing several fingers in a farming accident the week before the district tournament began. Jones, with a heavily bandaged hand to protect the injury, was sent out to retrieve the district championship trophy.

“You get one chance at this,” Sparrow said. “When you lose somebody like Bubby (Jones), that heartbeat has to get stronger. … These kids really, really, really wanted to come through for him.”

McGill needed just 82 pitches to get the job done, striking out six batters while permitting just four hits and one walk. Only one batter got past second base for Bardstown against the junior.

“We really preached to Benton, ‘you’ve got to pound the (strike) zone,’” Sparrow said. “He pounded it and pounded it and pounded it.”

The Cardinals (19-18) and Tigers (17-18) will both be in action at next week’s 5th Region tournament, which starts Monday at Marion County. The region pairings draw is Saturday morning.

McGill’s sterling effort followed up shutout efforts by Collin Runner, who beat Thomas Nelson 6-0 in the 4-5 seed game Monday, and Lawson, who shut out top-seeded Bethlehem 4-0 in Tuesday’s semifinals. Efforts like that give the Cardinals big hopes for region play.

“When you don’t give up any runs (in the district), you’ve got a real good chance of winning” the region, Sparrow said.

Bardstown coach Glenn Koger, a former standout pitcher himself, was in awe of the performance by the Nelson hurlers in the tournament.

“Tip your hat to them,” he said. “They did what they had to do. They kept the top of our lineup so off-balance.”

McGill struck out the final two batters Tuesday in relief of Lawson, and was completely dominant on Thursday as the momentum seemed to carry over. He worked from ahead in the count all night long, with only four batters all game able to get to a three-ball count. McGill’s ability to locate not just his fastball, but a nasty curveball as well, kept the Tigers off-balance from the start.

“Absolutely great outing,” Lawson said.

The Cardinals gave their pitcher an early lead to work with as well, as Lawson and Cameron Lovvorn hit back-to-back doubles with two outs in the first off of Bardstown junior right-hander Michael Clements to take a 1-0 lead.

“I don’t think anybody was tense from the start,” Lawson said. “Coach has been preaching ‘One Heartbeat’ all year, and I think it finally set in. We jump-started in the first inning and it just carried it over from there.”

Nelson County added a run in the second when Dawson Curtsinger drew a walk to lead off the frame, stole second and moved to third on Colton Brewer’s single. Curtsinger scored on a wild pitch with Ryan Culver at the plate.

McGill said getting that early lead allowed him to be more relaxed and confident in spotting his pitches.

“It’s a lot of pressure off your shoulders,” he said.

Clements was solid on the mound for the Tigers, pitching a complete game, but was the victim of a lack of run support. He scattered eight hits and walked two while allowing just three earned runs.

Nelson County pushed across two more runs in the top of the sixth via small ball combined with a pair of errors. McGill drew a walk to start the inning, giving way to courtesy runner Jackson Boone, who then took second on an errant pickoff throw. Curtsinger then got on by way of a bunt single to move Boone to third, and Andrew Morrow moved Curtsinger to second with a sacrifice bunt.

Runner then came up with a third straight bunt, perfectly placed in no-man’s land on the right side of the infield, and was safe on an errant throw, which allowed Boone and Curtsinger to score. Lawson added the final run in the top of the seventh with a monster homer to deep right field over the Tigers’ Purple Monster fence.

Bardstown’s best chance to score came in the bottom of the second when Andrew Berry singled to left with two outs then took third on Keagan Roberson’s single to center. Isaac Kiser came up next and hit a hard liner to second that Will Koger was able to snare.

The Tigers had another opportunity in the bottom of the fifth when Roberson led off with a double to center, but McGill sandwiched a pair of strikeouts around a popup to short to strand the runner. McGill got the first two batters out in the bottom of the seventh before Roberson collected his third hit of the game. Kiser followed that with a walk, but McGill struck out Koger to finish it off.