For the first time this season, the Eminence Warriors just went out and played baseball with every pitch and every swing of the bat. And because of that leave-it-all-on-the-field attitude, coach Mark Payton could not have been more pleased.
With former University of Kentucky basketball player Cameron Mills in the dugout, the Warriors finished with eight hits and committed just four errors en route to a 12-2 loss to Anderson County in the opening round of the 30th District tournament. Compared to previous outings against Anderson — a 58-0 loss last spring and a 25-0 loss three weeks ago — this was an impressive season finale for a team that is young and plays with a majority of inexperienced players.
“It was a good game for us — we were David and they (Anderson) were Goliath,” Payton said of the lopsided matchup. “We cut down on our errors and played much, much better than we had been playing against Anderson. With scores of 58-0, 25-0 and 12-2, that speaks for itself. We finally stopped looking at Anderson’s jersey and just went out to play ball.”
Eminence assistant coach Johnny Pitman, who is friends with Mills, convinced the former UK player to come to Shelby County High School last Tuesday to give the Warriors a pre-game talk and cheer them on. Mills, who is most remembered for hitting a big three-pointer in the 1998 NCAA finals to lift Kentucky over Utah, spent the entire game in the dugout, which motivated the Eminence players to play with more passion.
“Our guys came out really fired up and, for once, just went out and played baseball,” Payton said. “I thought Mills did an excellent job. He stayed in our dugout, had an Eminence hat on and was talking to our players the whole time. We responded well to him.”
Eminence’s most noticeable blemish came in the second inning when the Warriors committed four errors and allowed Anderson to score six runs. Besides that defensive debacle, the Warriors held their ground for the rest of the game, which was called in five innings due to the 10-run mercy rule. Michael Snell pitched the first two innings, and Ed Berry pitched the final three.
Offensively, the Warriors had eight hits, including key hits from Snell, Berry, Travis Fisher and Adam Bruner. Payton said Bruner had just joined the team last month and gave the Warriors a big lift as a senior. Another notable number was the Warriors strikeouts — they averaged 11 per game during the season but finished with just six.
Eminence’s two runs came in the fourth inning. Berry’s hit allowed Fisher to score, while Bruner also crossed home plate later in the inning. But in the end, Anderson proved to be the dominant team and advanced to the finals the following night, when they defeated Shelby, 13-4, to improve to a regional-best 23-10 on the year.
“Anderson just had some solid hits. They found the gaps and hit the ball there,” said Payton, whose team gave up zero home runs for one of the few times this season. “We played well but Anderson is a top, top team.”
With the loss, the Warriors finished their season with a 1-10 record. Their one win came against Evangel Christian (4-3) at home on May 5. They dropped their first eight games, defeated Evangel, then lost their final two.
As a team, the Warriors had a batting average of .274, Payton said, with Snell leading the way at .484 and Berry in second at .303.
“It was another growing season,” said Payton, who finished last season at 1-17 in his first year as the head coach. “It’s like baseball is starting over in Eminence and we’re just going through all the bumps and bruises now.”
The Warriors will return a majority of their lineup next spring. With young players on this year’s team, including starting middle schoolers Bradley Foree and Brandon Mitchell, Payton said his team should continue to get better during the next few seasons. When they take to the field again, the Warriors look to improve on their back-to-back one-win seasons.
“Our guys are excited — they’re getting that excitement back to Eminence baseball,” said Payton, who is hosting a baseball camp in mid-June for the younger players. “We have a foundation, now we just have to build around it. We’re on the right path.”
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