MOREHEAD — Jeremy Shope’s Whitley County Colonels hope to continue to make program history on Saturday when they face-off against 16th Region champion Raceland during the KHSAA State Baseball Tournament’s Semi-State 7 game.
The Colonels (30-9) are set to do battle at Morehead State’s Sonny Allen Field with the game slated for a 4:30 p.m. start.
Whitley County posted a 4-1 mark during postseason play, including a three-inning, 16-1, a blowout win over Middlesboro during the 13th Region title game that secured the Colonels’ first-ever region championship.
“I have spent the last day reflecting on what our program has been able to accomplish,” Shope said. When I got here four years ago, I saw a group of boys who ready to be coached and coached hard. We had some talent but lacked confidence and pitching depth. We spent the last couple of years focusing on that. The 2020 class believed they could win it. There was talent, confidence, and pitching depth then the season got canceled. “We were in a state of depression for the next few months,” he added. “I finally got rid of all the negativity going on in my mind and around me with the pandemic. We decided to go back to work with anyone that wanted to come to an open field. The numbers grew with each week. Our boys decided to have fun again. This young team just kept getting better and better. We’ve had some good leadership from the few that had returned from last year's team. My coaching staff worked tirelessly to make us better. It’s been fun to watch these boys get better and watch them compete. I’m one proud Coach.”
After a day of celebrating their win, Shope’s Colonels have focused their attention on a Ram squad that will be tough to beat.
Raceland enters Saturday’s game garnering a 31-7 record after posting a 4-1 mark in postseason play.
The Rams cruised to an easy 11-1 win over Lewis County to open the 63rd District Tournament before falling to Greenup County, 4-3, in the district title game. Raceland refocused in the 16th Region Tournament, winning all three of its region tournament games by a combined score of 29-2, including an 11-1 victory over Ashland Blazer in the 16th Region title game.
Raceland got where it is today behind an offense that scores 9.4 runs per game and is batting .331 while its pitching staff has been dominant, surrendering only 2.1 runs per game. The Rams’ pitchers have tossed 12 shutouts this season.
Clay Coldiron leads Raceland with a perfect 6-0 mark and hasn’t allowed a run in 23 innings of work. Kirk Pence is 6-2 with 80 strikeouts and a 1.39 ERA while Jakob Holtzapfel is 5-2 with a 2.20 ERA. Jacob Heighton has turned in a 3-3 Mark this season with a 1.53 ERA while Camron Pullin is 3-0 with a save and a 2.07 ERA.
Heighton has also produced at the plate, leading the Rams with a .457 batting average, six home runs, 42 hits, 41 RBI, and 10 doubles. He has also scored 31 times. Pence is batting .389 with 35 hits, 37 RBI, 33 runs scored, and one home run. Speedster Conner Hughes has put together a .355 batting average and leads the team with 20 stolen bases while only being thrown out twice. He also has 33 hits, 24 RBI, and a team-best 54 runs scored. Coldiron is batting .355 with 27 hits, 21 RBI, and 21 runs scored while Chase Thornsberry is batting .346 with 28 hits, 20 RBI, and 20 runs scored. In all, Raceland has seven players that are batting over .300 this season.
“One thing I know about Raceland is that they are good,” Shope said. “You don’t win 31 games if you’re not. They have good pitching and defense. They’ve got a couple of really good guys offensively. They are also very well-coached. I’ve always been one that believes you just have to be really good at what you do. I believe in scouting our team and finding our weaknesses and get better. We’ll be familiar with them also.”
Whitley County enters Saturday’s matchup averaging 8.8 runs per game while allowing only 3.7 runs per matchup.
The Colonels have been led by a pitching staff that has combined to toss eight shutouts this season.
They’re led by 13th Region Player of the Year Caden Petrey, who has an 8-3 record along with a 2.16 ERA. He has struck out 82 batters in 64 and two-thirds of an inning while 13th Region Tournament MVP Grant Zehr is 9-2. He has garnered a save, a 2.23 ERA, and 37 strikeouts. Mason Croley is 5-2 with a save. He has compiled a 3.05 ERA while striking out 70 batters while Bryce Anderson is 2-1 with a save, a 2.22 ERA, and 33 strikeouts. R.J. Anderson has pitched in nine games while posting a 3-1 mark along with a 2.53 ERA and 17 strikeouts.
Petrey also leads the way at the plate for the Colonels. His .491 batting average along with 55 hits lead the team. Petrey also has two home runs, 30 RBI, 23 doubles, and 41 runs scored.
Sam Harp is batting .436 with 51 hits, a team-best 44 RBI, and 41 runs scored while Luke Stanfill is batting .339 with 37 hits, 32 RBI, and 38 runs scored. Anderson leads the team with 14 stolen bases. He’s also batting .322 with 38 hits, 31 RBI, and 37 runs scored. Matthew Wright is batting .333 and has come up with many clutch hits this season. He has 31 hits, 22 RBI, and 31 runs scored while Andrew Stack is batting .325 with 26 hits, 19 RBI, and 29 runs scored. Brayden Mahan has turned in a .307 batting average with 23 hits, 17 RBI, and 29 runs scored while Trevor Downs is batting .278 with 20 hits, 26 RBI, and 16 runs scored.
“We get to enjoy that regional championship for one day and then it’s back to work,” Shope said. “We don’t want to have any regrets later on by not getting ready to play again. These boys will get to enjoy that regional championship for a lifetime. They’ll have plenty of time. We have a plan for the next couple of days to get ready for the next game. Our strength has been that these boys love coming to the ballpark daily to get better. We have unbelievable team chemistry. We love to compete. If you have a team that loves to compete, then it's going to be fun.
“We are honored and humbled for this opportunity. Our program, school, and the community are ecstatic,” he added. “We have a lot of great things happening at Whitley County. It’s an awesome time to be a Colonel.”