LEXINGTON — On Friday afternoon, the McCracken County Mustangs and St. Xavier Tigers will battle in the most anticipated matchup at the state tournament for their ticket to the state championship game at Kentucky Proud Park.
For one team, their first title has been in reach in recent years, and for the other team, their last title came in 2018. While the First Region has been hunting for its first title since 1960, the Seventh Region added title No. 16 last season when Trinity defeated the McCracken County Mustangs.
The last matchup between the two teams came on May 7, when St. Xavier defeated McCracken County at Edward Jones Field, 5-2. Although the Tigers won, the Mustangs did not go down without fighting, and since then, McCracken County has not lost a game.
Per Prep Baseball Report, McCracken County sits at No. 1 with a 35-6 record, with St. Xavier right behind them at No. 2 and 32-10.
Per KHSAA, the Mustangs are No. 1 in team hits (369), No. 2 in team triples (25), No. 3 in team strikeout leaders (341), No. 5 in team earned run average (1.88), No. 13 in RBI (241), No. 15 in team doubles (66), No. 16 in team runs (284), No. 22 in team home runs (18), and No. 35 in team batting average (.327).
The Tigers are No. 1 in team triples (27), No. 12 in team earned run average (2.22), No. 13 in team hits (336), No. 14 in RBI (240), No. 15 in team strikeout leaders (284), No. 15 in team runs (288), and No. 19 in team home runs (19).
How the teams reached the semifinal roundThe trip to state began for McCracken County as they went undefeated in district and regional play in the regular season. They took down Paducah Tilghman, Hickman County, Calloway County, and Marshall County to win the First Region during the postseason.
During the first round of the state tournament, the Mustangs defeated Hazard, 16-9, after leading off the first inning with a double, triple, and two-run home run to kick off their state appearance. McCracken County also went on to top the Campbell County Camels on Saturday, with dominant relief pitching and taking advantage of Campbell County’s mishaps on the field.
The Tigers fell in the 26th District championship against Male, 3-2. However, the powerhouse program toppled the Seventh Region in regional play with numerous titles. St. X defeated Christian Academy-Louisville, DuPont Manuel, and then shut out rival Trinity to claim the region.
During the first round of the state tournament, the Tigers faced Christian County, silencing them with an 8-0 win. Despite Central Hardin’s attempts, they also fell like the Colonels, only this time it was a 13-0 St. Xavier victory.
Players to watchFor McCracken County, Jack Bennett, Nate Lang, Caleb Ehling, and Miller Green have been staples in the lineup this season.
The Gatorade Player of the Year, Jack Bennett, is No. 22 in home runs (8), No. 18 in hits (54), No. 20 in triples (5), No. 7 in walks (34), No. 28 in slugging percentage (.853), No. 40 in earned run average (1.42), No. 10 in wins on the mound (8-1), and No. 38 in innings pitched (59.1).
Lang is No. 50 in hits (47), No. 10 in triples (6), and No. 35 in RBI (43). Sophomore Ehling has been a gem on the mound and is No. 20 in saves per KHSAA with three.
Green has 41 hits for the Mustangs with eight doubles, three triples, and 27 RBI in 38 games and 124 at-bats. Green played a vital role in the 16-9 game against Hazard with a triple to score Dylan Riley for the first run of the game.
For St. Xavier, Jake Bennett, Cooper Smith, and Zach Marks will be a trio to watch on the field. Although head coach Andy Porta announced Ty Starke would get the nod against McCracken County, Ben Tedesco and Ben Purnell have significantly impacted the Tigers.
Jake Bennett is No. 3 in home runs (13), No. 39 in hits (49), No. 11 in triples (6), No. 6 in walks (35), No. 12 in slugging percentage (.929), and No. 1 in RBI (64).
Smith is No. 5 in hits (58), No. 2 in triples (10), and No. 10 in runs (53), while teammate Marks is No. 43 in walks (28).Starke, who faced the Mustangs in May, is No. 23 in ERA (1.13), while Tedesco is No. 22 (1.12) and Purnell is No. 47 in wins (7-0).