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South so close: Dragons' postseason run ends in regional final

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By Elliott Pratt

SHELBYVILLE — Dave Watkins has been an assistant coach with South Oldham baseball since the school opened 26 years ago. During that time, the Dragons have been to the regional final six times and lost in each appearance.

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“Sooner or later it’s going to come,” Watkins said.

Those were words from the coach standing on the field minutes after South Oldham lost the Region 8 tournament championship game 2-0 to Collins Thursday night in Shelby County.

The Titans advanced to the state tournament in Lexington to play Madison Central on Monday.

The loss for the Dragons ended an impressive postseason run that featured an upset of No. 13 North Oldham in the District 29 tournament opener, another district tournament championship with a win over Oldham County, and two big regional wins that prepared them for a chance to play for the school’s first ever trip to the state tournament.

“You couldn’t find three people in Oldham County that thought we would get out of the district,” Watkins said. “The North Oldham win was probably one of the biggest wins in school history. We were a flat underdog considering everything. We had a losing record and they were ranked 13th in the state…This team…with heart, came together at the right time and we were really playing good the last couple of weeks. I’m proud of them.”

The momentum that started from South’s 8-7 comeback victory over Henry County in the first round of the regional tournament carried over into semifinals. The Dragons’ bats started hot and never let up in a 17-2 five inning win over Grant County. 

The same wasn’t true for the title game, where South only got three hits and no runs while senior Nathan Patterson allowed one earned run and threw five strikeouts.

“I think our school is cursed,” Patterson said. “We’re now 0-6 in the regional championship game. Hopefully one day that streak will be broken…After what we did (Thursday) night with 17 runs in five innings, I thought we could hit the ball better than we did, but it wasn’t meant to be.”

South (17-18) fell behind in the second inning on a RBI double from Hunter Perry to put Collins ahead 1-0. The Dragons stranded Nathan Straker at third to end the third inning and left runners at the corners in the top of the sixth. 

After Patterson allowed a leadoff double and a walk in the bottom of the frame, South turned a 4-6-3 double play, putting Eric Burk at third. Burk scored on a throwing error from catcher Tanner Johnson in a throw to third that sailed into right field, allowing Collins the insurance run.

“That last run in the sixth put the nail in the coffin for us,” senior Blake Bisig said. “The way we were playing all night, we didn’t really have the confidence that we’ve had throughout the postseason. I think after that run we were done in the head.

“We fought through a lot of doubt and there wasn’t a lot of people that believed in us. Sometimes we didn’t believe in ourselves. It feels great to prove people wrong and to make it to where we were.”

Each team had three hits with Straker, Devin Bishop and Dylan Smith earning the three for South. 

Bisig, Patterson, Tyler Fitch, John Lowrey, Jared Brussell and Bastien Belhomme are South’s exiting seniors, who coach Todd Driskell said were the backbone of South’s deep run through the postseason.

“You couldn’t ask for a better group,” Driskell said. “Those seniors established and knew what their roles were and put ourselves in position to be successful and bought in to it. That’s a tribute to them and a testament to what we were able to accomplish this season.”