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Cats claim first NCKC title since 2001

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By Tommie Kendall

For the first time in nearly seven years, the Henry County baseball team celebrated a North Central Kentucky Conference title, and it couldn't have come at a better time as the Wildcats needed a boost heading down the homestretch of the season.

Following a 13-day stretch of winning 10 of 11 mid-season games, the Wildcats dropped three straight before jumping back on the winning side of things with four consecutive wins - including a 13-0 victory over Louisville Collegiate last Monday night and three wins in the NCKC tournament Saturday against Trimble County (3-1), Williamstown (6-1) and Gallatin County (11-1). It was the team's first NCKC championship since 2001, and pointed the Cats in the right direction with the 31st District tournament around the corner.

"It was very exciting to win the conference," Henry coach Austin Hunsaker said following his team's triple-header at home Saturday. "Our players were very happy to win it, so obviously I was too."

Henry looks at this win as the first of three important goals, which will continue next Monday in the opening round of districts and, hopefully, in the regional tournament the following week.

"The situation we are in is we look at this conference tournament as an opportunity for us to come away with a win, but it's more of a first step for us," Hunsaker said. "Our big goals are the conference, district and regional tournaments, and this was a good starting point to those goals."

Henry opened the NCKC tournament last Wednesday against Trimble, and when the Wildcats were up 3-1 in the top of the sixth inning, the rain turned from a drizzle to a downpour, which delayed the game until Saturday. The Cats then held off Trimble in the final two innings Saturday, followed with a semifinals' win over Williamstown later in the day and ended with a championship victory over Gallatin after five innings of play late Saturday.

"One thing I noticed from our players is they took a very mature approach, and our seniors were very big leaders," Hunsaker said. "Truthfully, it was a total team effort from everyone. I'm excited because this is the time of the season that you want a team to come together like this."

For his play during the tournament, Henry's Tyler Cox was named the Most Valuable Player, and he was joined on the All-NCKC Team with teammates Anthony Palmer, Jordan Bryant, Ben Roberts and Joey Pollard.

Cox pitched complete games against Trimble and Gallatin, Palmer pitched the complete game against Williamstown and provided a solid leadoff bat, Bryant went 3 of 3 at the plate in the finals, Roberts went 4 of 4 in the semifinals, and Pollard made some "outstanding defensive plays" during the entire tournament, Hunsaker said.

"So many of our players deserved to be on that team - they all played so well," Hunsaker added. "But I thought Cox pitched outstandingly. Anytime you can pitch two games in a three-game tournament and win them both, that's pretty darn good."

Cox pitched all five innings against Trimble last Wednesday, finished the two innings Saturday, then turned around and pitched all five innings in the championship game later in the day. Pitchers can throw nine innings in one day, and must take at least a two-day break if more than five innings are thrown. Cox stayed within the legal limit and gave the Wildcats just the spark they needed.

After a slow start in the finals, Henry started to pour it on against Gallatin. The Wildcats took advantage of Gallatin's mistakes, which allowed the floodgates to open. During a big third inning, Henry scored six runs.

"We try to teach our players when we have a team down, we have to put them away," Hunsaker said. "We did just that. Gallatin has a pretty good team, but we got them down and put them away."

After the NCKC win, the Wildcats are 16-6 with games against Simon Kenton (Tuesday), Eminence (Wednesday) and Atherton (Thursday) scheduled for this week. The Cats will open the 31st District tournament against Owen this Monday at 8 p.m. Gallatin County High School will host the district tourney this year.

E-mail us about this story at sports@hclocal.com.