By Mike Fields
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Newport Central Catholic’s Josh Cain pitched perhaps the greatest game of his career in the quarterfinals of the Kentucky National Insurance/KHSAA State Tournament Thursday night.
And it left him in anquish.
“It’s awful,” he said. “I don’t want to ever experience this feeling again. It’s terrible.”
Cain had a bizarre balk in the bottom of the ninth that gave Henderson County a 1-0 victory and prompted a collective gasp from the fans in Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
Henderson County’s Kaleb Duckworth led off the bottom of the ninth with a double, only the second hit off Cain, who had gone the distance in a dominating performance.
Avery Pitt reached on an infield error, and Duckworth went to third. With Justin Cessna at the plate, Pitt stole second unchallenged.
The came the stunning finish.
Cain, who later said he was so focused on the batter that he didn’t realize Pitt had stolen second, wheeled and fired a pick-off attempt to unoccupied first base. The ball whistled wildly past the fielder, and Duckworth raced home with the winning run on what was ruled a balk.
“I was afraid the game would end on something crazy,” Henderson Coach Nathan Isenberg said. “I hated to see the guy (Cain) lose that way.
“But that’s baseball. We’ll take it.”
Duckworth felt the same way. “I didn’t know what (Cain) was doing. I guess he forgot Avery stole second. He threw a heck of a game, so I kind of feel sorry for him.
“But we’ll take it.”
The devastated Cain was left in tears as teammates, coaches and fans tried to console him.
NewCath Coach Jeff Schulkens said his junior righthander “just had a mental lapse” on the balk.
“It’s a shame it came down to that, as great a game as he pitched. I told him he has nothing to be ashamed of.”
Sam Higgs, the winning pitcher in the Colonels’ first-round victory over North Oldham, got another “W” with two innings of relief. He and sophomore starter Marty Coursey combined for seven strikeouts and limited NewCath to four hits.
Both teams squandered prime scoring opportunities.
Henderson County had runners at second and third with no outs in the sixth (on two NewCath errors), but came up empty.
The Thoroughbreds had a runner at third with one out in the seventh, but the missed a squeeze signal and failed to score.
Henderson County finally broke the stalemate on a play that was bizarre even for baseball.
“I can’t remember seeing one like that,” Schulkens said.. “Everybody was like, what the heck just happened? I think everybody was in shock.
“But Josh is a competitor, and he has another year. This is going to make him even more determined to be a leader and get this team back down here.”
NEWPORT CC 000-000-000—0 4 3
HENDERSON 000-000-001—1 2 3
WP: Higgs (8-4). LP: Cain (5-2). HITTING LEADERS: HC—Duckworth 2B. NCC—Collopy 2B. RECORDS: Henderson County 28-13, NewCath 25-17.
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