Rockcastle County’s Tanner Perkins is widely considered by most high school coaches, media members, and pro scouts to be the top pitcher in the state of Kentucky.

After all, the 6-foot-two inch senior and Mr. Baseball candidate had compiled a 6-1 record this season, tallied 116 strikeouts in 57 innings pitched, and was the owner of a minuscule ERA of 0.79.

However, in yesterday’s first round of the 12th Regional Baseball Tournament from Pulaski County High School, it was Southwestern’s Aaron Hampton doing his best Tanner Perkins impersonation.

The Warrior junior pitched an almost flawless game in Monday’s first game of the tourney, throwing six shutout innings against the Rockets, allowing J.D. Bussell’s club only three hits, with four strikeouts and two walks along the way.

And, while Perkins threw well enough to win, his defense let him down big-time by committing a mind-boggling seven errors on the day.

Thanks to that meltdown defensively by Perkins’ teammates, it was Southwestern taking full advantage, as Rodney McAninch and crew came away with an impressive, 7-0 win over The Rock, moving on to today’s semi finals.

“I thought Aaron Hampton did exactly what we asked him to do today, and that was to keep the ball right around the plate and make them put it in play,” stated a very jubilant McAninch, after his club moved to 21-10 on the year with the win.

“He was really focused out there and I can’t say enough about the job that he did for us,” continued the SWHS coach. “Tyler Mayer was able to jump start us there in the first inning, and we had worked on trying to hit Tanner (Perkins) all over the field. He’s a tough pitcher, and high school kids are going to have a tough time trying to catch up with an 87 to 88 mile per hour fastball.”

For Rockcastle County, the Rockets were forced to try to play catch up from the outset in this affair.

After Hampton retired the side in order in the top of the first inning, Southwestern’s Tyler Mayer did exactly what a leadoff hitter is supposed to do — get on base to lead things off.

On Perkins’ first pitch, Mayer hit a bleeder over the first baseman’s head down the right field line for a double, and the Warriors were off and running.

After Hampton’s sacrifice bunt moved Mayer to third base, T.T. Wooldridge hit a one-hopper to the bag at first.

First baseman Dustin Bullock fielder Wooldridge’s grounder and came home, but Mayer stopped halfway down the third base line and raced back to the bag at third, allowing Wooldridge to reach safely at first base on the fielder’s choice.

Tyler Blair then laid down the perfect suicide squeeze bunt, and Mayer came home with Southwestern’s first run of the day, giving the Warriors a quick, 1-0 lead.

“I thought Mayer did a good job of jump starting things for us in the first inning, and (Tyler) Blair did a good job of getting the squeeze bunt down,” stated McAninch.

“That’s exactly what we wanted to do, and that was to come out and stake ourselves to a lead early, and try to play defense, and it worked out pretty well,” added McAninch.

Mayer, who was the proverbial thorn in Perkins’ side all day long, once again got the Warriors off and going in the home half of the third inning by getting on base against Perkins.

Mayer reached base safely on an infield single, thanks to a bang-bang play at first. On the play, Perkins, attempting to nail Mayer at the bag, threw the ball over the first baseman’s head for an error, and Mayer wound up all the way to second.

Perkins then attempted to pick off Mayer from the bag at second, but the throw sailed into center field for another throwing error on the Rockcastle pitcher, and Mayer scored all the way from second, giving his club a 2-0 lead while putting all kinds of pressure on Perkins and The Rock.

“It’s a matter of surviving and advancing, and hopefully you’re executing at this time of year, and I thought today our execution was tremendous,” pointed out McAninch.

“I thought our bunts were tremendous, and our bunt defense was great — we turned several double plays and threw a guy out at the plate from the outfield,” continued the Warrior skipper.

The play at the plate McAninch referred to came in the top half of the third frame, when Rockcastle County put its biggest threat of the day together against Hampton.

The inning started with a leadoff walk to Perkins, and he stole second on John L. Saylor’s swing and a miss for the first out of the game.

Zach Reams then came on as the courtesy runner for Perkins with one out, and he immediately advanced to third base on Jacob Riddle’s single.

With runners on the corners and only one out, came the play of the day for the Warrior defense.

Justin Bryant hit a fly ball to shallow center field for the second out, and Reams tagged up at third and raced toward home.

Center fielder T.T. Wooldridge threw an absolute strike to the plate nailing Reams on the play for the third and final out, and that would be that.

“That was a big momentum shift, because if they score on that play, it’s now 2-1 and they’re still hitting,” McAninch pointed out.

“I thought that sucked a lot of life out of them at that particular stage of the game,” McAninch stated.

With that 2-0 lead, and with Hampton mowing down Rock’s hitters, the score remained 2-0 in favor of the Warriors until Southwestern blew this one wide open by plating five runs off of Perkins in the bottom half of the sixth inning.

However, Perkins deserved a much better fate in the inning, as he defense behind him was guilty of five errors in the frame, allowing Southwestern to blow this one wide open.

The big hit in the frame came from right fielder Zach Fowler, who came up with the bases juiced and nobody out, and immediately fell into an 0-2 hole against Perkins.

On the third pitch from Perkins in the at bat, Fowler took an 0-2 fastball to the right side for a two-run single, and the Warriors had a 4-0 lead, and Perkins and Rock were in some big-time trouble.

Three more runs came home due to Rockcastle County’s woes in the infield on some crucial errors at the worst possible time, but the big hit in that decisive sixth came off the bat of Fowler.

“I’m really proud of (Zach) Fowler because I thought they were really pitching him carefully today, especially in his first two at bats,” stated McAninch.

“That third at bat they came right at him, and he got behind 0-2, but to his credit he really bore down there,” added the Warrior coach. “To be honest, earlier in the season he may have given up on that at bat, but we’ve really been after him to battle and he’s really came a long way. Zach, I believe, may be one of the better players in this region when all is said and done.”

With the win, the Warriors advanced to the semi finals of the tournament, where Southwestern will meet up against the Danville Admirals, who knocked off the defending champion West Jessamine Colts yesterday by a count of 9-5.

In yesterday’s third game, McCreary Central pulled off an upset by sending Mercer County home with a 12-6 win, while Somerset was leading Boyle County in the third inning last night 1-0, when the game was called due to lightning.

The Jumpers and Rebels will resume that game this afternoon at 5:30 p.m., with the winner of that contest scheduled to play McCreary Central Wednesday night at 8 p.m. in the semi finals.

Southwestern meanwhile, will face Danville in Wednesday’s first semi final game beginning at 6 p.m.

RC 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 0 3 7

SW1 0 1 0 0 5 X — 7 4 0

2B — Mayer (SW). RBI — Fowler 2, Blair (SW). WP — Hampton (SW). LP — Perkins (RC)

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