June 4, 2014 —
The exact words out of Cam Planck’s mouth were, “the kid does everything.”
The Rowan County sophomore was talking about teammate Justin Graham after the junior helped propel the Vikings into the 16th Region semifinals earlier this week.
The choice of words couldn’t have been more on point, because Graham models his game after “The Kid.”
A graceful roamer of center field and a left-handed No. 3 hitter who flaunts both power and swagger, Graham will readily admit his fascination with future major league baseball Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr.
Graham’s game reflects those feelings. His appearance does, too, with pierced ears and a facial hair patch on his chin resembling that of the former Red and Mariner.
“My dad took me to a Reds game when he was playing, and he called a home run, and Griffey hit it out,” Graham recalled. “After he hit that home run, I went back home and looked him up, and that’s how I kind of became attached to him.”
Graham’s name is now adhered to an elite list. He was named Player of the Year on The Independent’s All-Area baseball team for 2014. The selection was determined by area coaches’ votes. The area includes the entire 16th Region in addition to Lawrence County, Johnson Central and Paintsville.
Co-Coach of the Year honors went to the rookie and the veteran — West Carter’s Tim Johnson, in his first year, and Raceland’s Randy Vanderhoof, in his 28th.
Both voiced similar sentiments regarding the recognition.
“It’s really not about the coach, it’s about the players. I take zero credit, and pass it on to the kids,” said Johnson, who guided the Comets to the most wins (20) in a single season in program history and their first district crown since 1991. While he does boast plenty of baseball coaching experience, Johnson, who’s had a long and steady career in education, was in his first season as a varsity head coach.
“As first-year coach, you think, looking up and down the schedule, there’s a win, a win, a win, and then you’ve got a bunch that are iffy,” he said. “When I started out the season, I thought we had an opportunity to win 16 ball games. We ended up winning 20, and there were three or four others that I thought we should’ve won.”
Vanderhoof’s Rams racked up 17 victories before falling short in the 63rd District first round.
“At first, I thought it was a prank or joke, to be honest,” said Vanderhoof about his reaction to learning of the honor. “Our assistant coaches, all of those guys, work so hard. It’s a tribute to them and the kids ... I’m just a small, small piece.
“Seems like I just started yesterday. I still enjoy it, love being around the kids. This was a fun bunch to coach.”
Boyd County eliminated Graham and the Vikings from postseason play on Tuesday before beating Ashland for the region title. Though the voting took place prior to the region tournament, the Lions still ended up with the most selections at three.
Only the players’ regular-season statistics were taken into account when coaches made their selections.
Senior Billy McCoy, junior Jacob Barnwell and sophomore Brock Damron comprised Boyd County’s All-Area trio.
McCoy, a Kentucky Wesleyan signee, amassed 52 innings pitched to go with a 0.93 earned run average and 50 strikeouts. Barnwell carried a .455 on-base percentage along with 22 RBIs and 15 stolen bases. When not catching, the Ohio State commit struck out 28 batters in 15 innings pitched. Damron hit .439 with a team-best 37 RBIs.
Ashland and Boyd County engaged in an extremely tight battle before the Lions walked away 3-1 victors in walk-off fashion on Wednesday. The Tomcats did manage to make their fourth straight showing in the region finals.
Catcher/pitcher Cam Fritz and infielder/pitcher Evan Cox, both seniors, helped the Tomcats to a 24-9 record. Fritz hit .400 and was 6-1 on the mound with a 1.30 ERA. Cox, considered Ashland’s top arm, was 4-2 with a 1.95 ERA. He hit a region-best .444, moving from the nine-hole to the third spot in the order midway through the season.
Greenup County, a region semifinalist, put a pair on the team. Senior J.T. Boggs batted .396 with 10 doubles, four triples, three home runs and 32 RBIs. Freshman Tristan Downing had a 6-1 pitching record with a 1.29 ERA in tow.
Rowan County made its second consecutive region final four appearance. Planck went 6-3 with 68 strikeouts, and also hit .398 with 20 RBIs. And, of course, there was Graham (.410, 2 HRs, 24 RBIs, 28 steals).
Graham said his season highlights include a 6-for-8 stint in a tournament at Campbell County. Plus, he played well in the Boyd County Derby Classic. He went deep during both events.
His defense caught the attention of opponents, too.
“It’s just awesome,” said Graham of manning center field. “You get the most action, and get to see everything that’s going on. You just have so much freedom out there to express what you can do on the field.”
This summer, Graham plans to play with the Huntington Hounds and will participate in a junior All-Star game.
Seven different players received Player of the Year votes, including Graham.
Lawrence County, Raceland and East Carter are other schools that garnered two selections.
Representing the Bulldogs, who will wrap up play in the 15th Region Tournament today, were sophomore Brock Turner (.440, 11 2Bs, 25 runs, 31 RBIs) and senior Joe Wallen (4-0 W-L, 1.41 ERA, 49 Ks in 49 IP; 28 RBIs).
Junior Kyle Moore (.376, 48 runs, 22 SBs) and sophomore Tyler Morris (.383, 27 RBIs; 5-4 W-L, 2.02 ERA) represented Raceland.
East Carter’s duo consisted of junior Chandler Adams, who had five pitching wins and parked a region-leading six home runs, and sophomore lefty Jordan Walburn (6-3, 1.74 ERA). Walburn’s 72 strikeouts put him atop the region in that category.
West Carter freshman Ben Jordan (sub-1 ERA), Russell junior Heath Hensley (.390, 30 runs, 16 SBs), Paintsville sophomore Kash Daniel (.377, 23 RBIs, 27 runs; 4-1, 51 Ks in 35 1-3 IP), Morgan County junior catcher Joey Stamper (.402, 35 RBIs; caught 12 of 14 runners stealing) and Johnson Central senior Jordan Young (.449, 31 RBIs, 20 SBs, .987 fielding percentage) are each first-time All-Area honorees.
Lewis County senior Sammy Holder holds the unique distinction among all 2014 selections of being a three-time All-Area team member. The Kentucky Wesleyan signee turned in a fine hitting and pitching campaign. He batted .424 with 24 runs and 13 steals. The right-hander went 5-2 on the mound with a 1.35 ERA, fanning 63 batters in 41 1-3 frames.
Both Barnwell and Graham are two-time All-Area selections.
Johnson earns Coach of the Year
June 4, 2014 —
The exact words out of Cam Planck’s mouth were, “the kid does everything.”
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