After a history-making 8-3 victory over the visiting Hazard Bulldogs Thursday evening, the Williamsburg Yellow Jackets baseball team is state bound in 2019!
The Jackets started off this season hot, winning their first five games and becoming back-to-back 13th Region All “A” champs just before Spring Break. Things have been rough since returning from the break, however, with the team going 1-4 including two losses apiece to 50th District rivals Whitley County and South Laurel.
Williamsburg’s woes in regular season district play now seem far away, though, suddenly replaced by the excitement of qualifying for this year’s All “A” state championship tournament in Owensboro after their 8-3 sectional round win over Hazard Thursday at Briar Creek Park.
This win was made even sweeter by the fact that it was Hazard who eliminated the Jackets from the All “A” last year with an 11-0 thumping in five innings. The Bulldogs would go on to finish as runner-up in the 2018 All “A” state tourney, and they advanced to the semifinal round of the KHSAA state championship tournament last June with wins over Corbin and Greenup County.
“This is pretty exciting,” said Williamsburg head coach Bryan Hopkins after Thursday’s victory. “We rewarded the kids for their regional championship win at school earlier today, and you could just tell in their faces that they were ready for this game. They came out ready to play.”
Hazard scored the first run of Thursday’s game in the top of the fourth inning, but the Jackets responded right away, tying the game up when Tate Fields popped up to bring Sydney Bowen home from second base. Williamsburg would go on to load the bases with two outs in the inning, but couldn’t bring in any more runs.
That changed in the bottom of the fifth when the Jackets faced a new Bulldog pitcher with bases loaded once again. Mason Manning put the home team up 2-1 when he was able to score from third base on a wild pitch, followed by a two-run RBI from senior Clay Kysar.
Hazard added one run in the top of the sixth to cut the lead to 4-2, but a big four-run bottom of the inning by Williamsburg ultimately sealed the deal and allowed for one of the most important victories in the history of the Yellow Jacket baseball program.
RBI doubles from Casey Kysar and Jackson Osborne gave Williamburg their first two runs in the sixth inning, later followed by an RBI single from Manning, and another RBI single from senior Cameron Bowen after the Bulldogs had made their second pitching change of the night.
Hazard was hopeful for a rally in the top of the seventh inning, but one more run was all they could muster.
It was Clay Kysar who pitched all seven innings for the Jackets Thursday, leading the team from the mound and helping them to secure a spot in this year’s All “A” state tourney. After the game, he said, “It feels amazing to be able to come through and pitch like this in my senior season. This was probably the best that game I’ve ever thrown. It was just amazing. I can’t explain it.”
“I want to give my all for the school, for the community, for my team and my family,” Kysar added. “I can’t thank everyone enough for the support that they’ve given us.”
“Clay has looked really good on the mound,” said Coach Hopkins. “I thought about pulling him towards the end of the game, but you could just see in his face that he really wanted this. I told him that if he wanted it, I would give him the opportunity. He said he could make the plays, and I believed in him.”
One of Kysar’s fellow seniors on the team, Hunter Brown, said, “This feel amazing. Last year we fell short, but this year we really put in a lot of work. Some games haven’t gone our way, but this team never quits. We never give up, and I’m just so happy to be a part of this.”
“It starts from the seniors, and goes all the way down to the freshmen and eighth graders,” Brown added. “We all push each other to go as hard as we can all the time. We try to never let anyone hang their heads about anything.”
Lincoln Memorial University commit Cameron Bowen was equally excited to make history Thursday, saying, “This feels great. Last year they got us, so we needed to pay them back. I’m just really happy right now. This is a big deal for us, and I feel like if we continue to play like we did tonight we will have a really good chance to do something at state.”
Speaking specifically about his senior players, which also includes James Reeder, Coach Hopkins said, “ This is the last go-around for some of these kids, and we told them that in order to capitalize on that we were going to really have to pull together as a family. We needed to play with our hearts as well as our gloves, and they did the job.”
“I’ve said from the get-go that this is a special group of kids,” said Hopkins. “They’re more family than they are teammates, and that makes a big difference. They put in the work, and it pays off.”
As for what comes next for the baseball Jackets, that would be back-to-back games next Monday and Tuesday against 50th District foe Corbin before they make the trip to Owensboro late next week to compete in the All “A” state tournament.
Williamsburg will face the Beechwood Tigers in their first round game of the state tourney, with first pitch currently set for 11:00 a.m. next Saturday, April 27. The Tigers are a perfect 18-0 on the season as of this report, defeating St. Henry 10-2 to win this year’s 9th Region All “A” title, and defeating Bishop Brossart 5-2 this past Wednesday in the sectional round.
The winner of the Beechwood/Yellow Jackets matchup will advance to face either Lyon County or the winners of Campbellsville/Louisville Holy Cross in the state tournament semifinals Sunday, April 28, at 8:30 a.m. The 2019 All “A” state championship game is scheduled to take place later that same day, at 1:00 p.m.
Be sure to check out the April 24 print edition of the News Journal for continued coverage.