OLIVE HILL – East Carter skipper Jeremiah Shearer made it very clear he only wanted to talk with his starting pitcher Caden McDavid when he made a beeline toward the mound in the second inning Saturday night.
As the Raiders’ ace struggled to find the zone early in the opening round of the 62nd District Tournament with Morgan County, Shearer had a few words of encouragement for the southpaw.
“Whenever Coach ‘Er’ came out, I knew it was going to be interesting,” McDavid laughed. “He shooed everyone away and said, ‘You have to be big for us tonight. It’s a big game and we have to win this one to play in the regional tournament and win a district championship.’ He just wanted me to be a bulldog and get it over and let my defense go to work.”
McDavid heeded his skipper’s request.
Battling the heat and constant pressure by the Cougars, McDavid tossed a complete game in a 6-1 Raiders’ win that sent them to Monday’s championship game against West Carter. McDavid allowed eight hits, but he struck out 12 and did not walk a batter.
“There were several times when Morgan had runners in scoring position and Caden had to buckle down,” Shearer said. “I’ve seen him have better stuff, but he really gutted it out tonight.”
McDavid appeared a bit unsettled on the bump to open the contest, but Shearer was quick to point out his ace had every right to be.
“Two weeks ago at Greenup County, I had to pull him with a stiff back, and I haven’t thrown him since,” Shearer said. “I told him he was done until the district tournament.
He’s played the field and hit, but I wouldn’t let him pitch. It was all about tonight and getting this win.”
Morgan County tried to make things difficult on McDavid but failed to cash in when it had the chance. The Cougars had at least one runner in scoring position in five of their first six innings against McDavid but managed to plate only one run.
“We had opportunities early and just could never get the hit to put us on top to stay on top,” Morgan County coach Johnny Perry said. “I feel bad for (Payton Hampton) for that, but we never gave up. We played hard the whole game and that’s just the way our season went.”
Hampton, much like his game with the Raiders during the regular season, was as much of a bulldog as McDavid until the righty ran out of pitches with one out in the sixth. Hampton turned the ball over to the bullpen trailing 3-1, but the Raiders scratched three across to extend their lead.
Morgan County (10-27) opened the contest with a one-out single from Cam Bush and Hampton reached after being hit by a pitch. However, McDavid fanned the next two to end the frame.
Perhaps the biggest swing of the night for the Cougars came from Braden Gullett, who lifted a ball to deep left center that hit off the top rail of the double-stacked chain-link fence and caromed back into the field of play. Gullett settled for a stand-up double, but the Cougars fell victim to another pair of McDavid strikeouts to end the inning.
“Of all the breaks ...” Perry said with a grin. “That is so our season.”
Hampton provided the spark for the Cougars with a one-out triple in the third and scored on an AJ Aragon double the gave Morgan County a 1-0 lead.
The Raiders caught a break after Noah Caudill sent a hard-hit ball to the hole on the right side that bounced away from Gullett attempting to make a diving grab. What followed was a two-out triple by Donovan Damron to right that tied the affair at 1-1.
McDavid said the run allowed him to settle in from the hill.
East Carter (12-15) snagged the lead for good in the fourth behind singles from Trevor Cline and Ethan Tiller that allowed Caudill to sneak his second hit into the outfield for a two-out RBI single.
East Carter faced West Carter for the district title Monday night at 6 p.m.