Never say die.
UCT’s 12-year-old all-star baseball team lost its Cal Ripken Ohio Valley Regional opener Friday to South Lexington, 17-14.
And although the squad clawed its way into Monday’s championship game with five straight wins, it was going to have to defeat a Scott County, Ky. team that beat it 18-1 in last season’s 11-year-old regional round.
No sweat. Led by a no-hitter from pitcher Jack Perkins, sterling defense and home runs from Brian Harding and Breven Sanford, UCT sent Scott County packing Monday night in a 7-0 victory at Southside to earn a berth in next week’s Cal Ripken World Series in Springfield, Mass.
It will mark the first time that Howard County has sent a team to the World Series since 1995, when Southside earned Bambino World Series runner-up honors after winning the Ohio Valley Regional.
“We were still positive,” UCT manager Jason Hurlock said of his team having the chips stacked against it. “We knew we gave a game away [in the opener]. Our pitching kind of fell apart, and we weren’t throwing strikes, but that’s part of it. From there, we believed we could compete with any of these teams and stuck together.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in for any of us that we’re going to the World Series. They know they’ve won something big, but I don’t think they realize how big.”
Perkins, one of five members from Hurlock’s H.P. McPike squad which won back-to-back David A. Kasey Memorial Howard County Youth Baseball Tournament titles in undefeated fashion, put together a performance for the ages. He finished with seven strikeouts and four walks, but was the benefactor of a pair of double plays from the middle infield, helping him face just two over the minimum and not allow a runner past first base.
“At the beginning of the season, we went through all of those practices [with McPike], and Jason worked us hard just to get us to the point that we are now,” Perkins said. “That really helps. It was great to no-hit those guys. They’re awesome hitters. The defense was awesome, too. Without them, there wouldn’t have been a no-hitter.”
With a highly potent Scott County offense laying dormant throughout, Hurlock never seriously pondered taking out Perkins.
“The biggest thing we tried to let Jack know was that this team hits the baseball,” Hurlock said. “Expect them to hit the baseball, even a home run here or there — that’s part of it, but we just have to fight through it. Jack was on, hitting his spots, and that’s all we could ask from him. In the fifth inning, I went out and asked him, ‘Hey, are you good to go?’ He said, ‘You’re not going to stop me now.’ It was a lot of fun.”
Scott County manager Kevin Robb was taken aback by his team’s inability to get to Perkins. Robb’s squad came into Monday’s final having averaged 14.4 runs per game in the regional.
“The kid pitched an incredible game,” Robb said. “If he can no-hit this team, he pitched an incredible game. This is the third loss this age group has had in two years. They won the World Series as 10-year olds. [UCT] played a great game, and they deserved to win.”
UCT gave Perkins all the round support he would need in the top of the first. After a pair of popouts, Perkins connected on a flare to shallow center field, where Scott County’s Sam Sutton dove but had his glove curl under him, causing the ball to pop out. After Noah Hurlock drew a walk, Nate Hemmerich rifled a two-RBI double off the wall in right-center for a 2-0 lead.
Perkins issued a two-out walk to Cameron Stiglieh in the second inning, giving Scott County its first baserunner. Starting pitcher Ryan Hannabach followed and smacked a sharp chopper right at Noah Hurlock at shortstop where he started a 6-3 double play to end the threat.
UCT turned another double play in the fourth after Sam Stayton drew a leadoff walk. Cooper Robb connected on a hard bouncer to Brian Harding at second base, who started a 4-6-3 double play to negate the free pass.
“The last few games, there’s just been something about them that’s clicked,” Jason Hurlock said about his defense. “Everyone has been on all cylinders, and that’s what we’re going to have to have to compete at the next level.”
Hemmerich led off the fourth with an infield single. With two outs, David Woodbury sent a sharp liner right at the right fielder, who had the ball hit the webbing of this glove and drop to the ground. Luke Cameron followed with an RBI single back through the middle, plating Hemmerich and putting UCT up 3-0.
The wheels started to fall off for Scott County in the fifth. Harding led off with a solo bomb to straightaway center field to put UCT ahead 4-0. Perkins reached on an error after the first baseman dropped a throw from across the diamond on a chopper to third. Hemmerich sent a sharp grounder to second, where the second baseman attempted to tag Noah Hurlock, who had reached on a fielder’s choice, but was unsuccessful. Still having a force out in play, the flip to shortstop was bobbled for the second error of the frame.
With two on and two out, Sanford belted a three-run homer to give UCT a comfortable 7-0 cushion.
“We’ve just fed off of last year’s all-star team’s run, getting to go down to South Lexington to play in the 11-year-old Ohio Valley Regional,” Jason Hurlock said. “We didn’t get as far there, but it was an experience we learned from. That’s something these guys had on their mind for a long time. When we played [Scott County] in the regional last year, they beat us 18-1. We had it in our minds that we wanted another shot at them. We keep telling these guys, ‘Hey, anything’s possible.’ They just keep playing and keep fighting. I don’t know what else you can say. They come to play.”
UCT will now head to Springfield for Cal Ripken World Series orientation next Tuesday. World Series play will begin two days later on Aug. 9.