LEXINGTON - After his team's heartbreaking 8-7 loss in the first round of the All A state tournament Saturday, Matt Smith refused to blame the seventh inning as the reason the Vikings lost.
The Vikings started the seventh with consecutive singles from Brett Quigley and John Higgins. After a sacrifice bunt moved them to second and third, Matthew Higgins lined a single that Paintsville's left fielder bobbled. Quigley scored, but John Higgins was ruled out at home.
"I saw (the catcher) go down, but I didn't see a tag," said Smith, who was coaching third base. "I never saw the glove put to the body. I saw (Higgins) get under it."
Still, the Vikings had another opportunity to score a run and even the score or score two to win. No. 3 hitter Jon Darnell received an intentional walk, and cleanup hitter Ross Whittaker walked to load the bases with two outs.
Vikings shortstop Davis Sims, however, then grounded into a game-ending out. Smith thought the play was bang-bang but that Sims was safe, which would've evened the score.
But, no, it wasn't those two plays that Smith will blame the Vikings' loss on. He won't linger on what could've been had the umpires changed one call and kept the inning alive.
"The five errors, that cost us the game," he said. "It was the five errors I see on the board."
The Vikings (15-3), who suffered their first lost to a team from Kentucky, allowed five unearned runs off those five errors. They fell behind 3-0 in the first because of two errors, and both of Paintsville's fifth-inning runs against Matthew Higgins were unearned.
Those errors cost them what had been an excellent rally.
The Vikings scored twice in the first, both runs coming on a double by catcher Brian Johnston, who finished 3 of 4 with three RBIs. They evened the score in the third and took a 5-3 lead in the fourth on a two-run single by Sims, who went 2 for 4 with a walk.
But Paintsville (18-5), the 15th Region champs, evened the score again with two unearned runs in the fifth.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Vikings took a 6-5 lead on a heads-up baserunning play by Darnell, who scored on an infield single by Johnston after Darnell started the play on second.
The Vikings' lead lasted until the top of the seventh.
With strong right-handed pitcher Austin Shaw out with a migraine - Smith had planned on using him for one or two innings at the end of the game - the Vikings stayed with Matthew Higgins for a fourth inning of work. Higgins fell one strike short of securing the win.
After allowing a leadoff walk, Higgins retired the next two Tigers on a sacrifice bunt and groundout. However, Paintsville cleanup hitter Kash Daniel clubbed a two-run home to deep right field, earning his team a trip to Waffle House for dinner Saturday night.
Daniel, according to Tigers coach John Miller, asked Miller if the team could eat at Waffle House if it won. Miller agreed and told Daniel before his last at-bat that he needed to do "something" to earn the trip.
"He did it," Miller said. "I have to thank the Waffle House."
Added Smith: "(Higgins) went to the well (threw a curveball) too many times. I'll take some of that blame. I should've slowed him down. I should've had him step off, regroup and slow his pace, which was consistent. I'll take the blame for that. We make mistakes, too."
Trailing 8-6 entering the seventh, the Vikings only scored once. Smith had hoped his team would earn its first All A state tournament win after going 0-1 during its only other appearance in 2006. The All A state tournament began in 2004.
"Earlier in the year, I told the guys, 'Don't leave it to the umpires. Do your job,'" Smith said. "We didn't do our job tonight. We made mistakes.
"Should we have gotten one or two of those calls at the end? Yeah. Had we played cleaner and better defensively, we wouldn't have been in that situation."
Paintsville 300 020 3 8 11 2
St. Mary 201 201 1 7 9 5
Daniel, Rice (3), Taylor (7) and Burchell; J. Higgins, Eggemeyer (2), M. Higgins (4)
WP: Rice; LP: M. Higgins
2B: Pa-Miller; StM-Johnson (2). 3B: none. HR: Daniel.
Call Daniel Paulling, a Sun sports writer, at 270-575-8662, or follow on Twitter @DanielPaulling.
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