Apollo makes history, uses steady offense to advance to final four

June 4, 2023 | 12:05 am

Updated June 4, 2023 | 11:39 am

The Eagles got ahead early and never looked back, getting a strong start from junior Will Strode while a number of players stayed hot at the plate to grab a 7-3 win over Lexington Catholic—etching themselves in the history books as the fifth team to reach the final four in program history.

It didn’t take nearly as long for Apollo to get going offensively in the elite eight, getting a runner in scoring position thanks to a one-out single from senior Josh Mayes and a stolen base with two outs. Sophomore Sam Holder then continued his hot streak, blooping one into left field to make it a 1-0 game.

It wasn’t until the bottom of the third that the Knights posed a threat, getting a one-out single from junior Max Daugherty before junior Will Strode hit the following batter to put runners on first and second.Strode was able to bounce back quickly though, getting a strikeout looking and a fly out to deep center to keep the Eagles in front 1-0 going into the fourth.

And while Strode continued to stifle Lexington Catholic’s bats, Apollo got going again in the top of the fifth. It was a walk from sophomore Garrett Lanham and a stolen base that kickstarted the rally, with a single to center from sophomore Grayson Smith put runners on the corners with no outs for Will Strode.

The Knights would turn a quick double play, but the Eagles got one to make it a 2-0 game. Senior Josh Mayes then legged out a bunt single, before scoring on a ball that bounced over the left fielder’s head for an RBI double by senior Easton Blandford for a 3-0 lead. He later advanced on a passed ball, then scoring on a wild pitch to give Apollo a 4-0 lead going into the bottom of the fifth.

It seemed like Lexington Catholic might finally break through with a two-out triple from senior Griffin Cameron in the bottom of the fifth, but Strode was able to retire the next batter with one pitch and kept things at 4-0 going into the sixth.  His fellow Eagles returned the favor at the plate, as Smith delivered a two-out two-run single to take a 6-0 lead, later advancing to second on the throw home to give Strode an RBI opportunity.

He was unable to cash, but later found himself with a challenge on the mound in the bottom half of the inning. A walk and an error came back to bite him and the Eagles, as they got runners on first and second with one out.

A double from Cameron followed to score one, also leaving runners in scoring position with one down. But a sac fly to left was all they would get, as Stroke struck out the final batter of the inning to take a 6-2 lead into the seventh. The Eagles didn’t skip a beat at the plate either, getting an RBI single to right center from eighth grader Ty Lillpop for his third of the day, while also putting runners on the corners with one down for senior Hayden Cash.

He drew a four-pitch walk, but a heck of a diving play at second led to a double play and left Apollo up 7-2 being three outs away from a final four berth. The Knights would get one run back on a two-out single, but Strode was able to get a fly out to win the game—grabbing a historic 7-3 win to send the Eagles to the final four.

Head Coach Brandon Dennis said his team came out today on a mission, proving that they are a red-hot force to be reckoned with going into the final four.

“This team came out today and absolutely laid it on the line and won that game fair and square,” Dennis said. “I think they’re tired of hearing of how they upset someone or how they found a way to win. Today we came out here and we won that game all out.”

Strode played a big part in the win, allowing two earned runs—three total—on seven hits and two walks while striking out seven in just as many innings. Dennis said that they knew Will would need to have a big outing, 

“It all goes behind Will Strode coming back and throwing a complete seven after closing the other day,” Dennis said. “We talked about it. We knew we were going to have to have something like that and Will Strode can do that.”

Plenty of players continued their hot streaks at the plate as well, with the team collecting 12 hits on the day. Smith led the way with a pair of hits and two RBIs, while Holder and Lillpop both chipped in an RBI each.

“That might be as many hits as we’ve had all year against that many arms who are quality arms,” Dennis said. “This team showed up today because they wanted it and they went and got it.”

Every time Lexington Catholic tried to build up momentum on Saturday the Eagles would quickly squash it, something that Dennis said was imperative for them to do to get the win. Something that his team has battled to do throughout the season.

“That was the absolute key for us,” Dennis said. “Earlier this year we would’ve tried to make that hold and it would’ve been just torture. The greatest thing in the world is the fact that we were able to get that run or tack on [runs]. We tacked on a couple and then we even added another one to get those runs back and even it back up. That was huge for us because it lets Will breathe a little bit and not put the pressure on him like it would’ve earlier in the year.”

The team knew that history could be made coming in and it was evident in the demeanor the Eagles held as they fought to continue their impressive postseason run on Saturday. That mental toughness proved crucial, playing a key factor in a meaningful win for Apollo baseball.

“They started off today building around that idea, ‘we could be the fifth to team pull this off,’” Dennis said. “It’s sort of how they approached it from the first pitch. There’s a lot of pride and we’ve talked about it. There’s an unbelievable amount of pride. It’s a baseball school through and through and so to get this opportunity to represent our school in this way [is awesome]. These guys know what’s on the line.”

Now Apollo has some time off before they get the chance to build on the big momentum for the program, taking the field in the semifinals at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, June 9, at Kentucky Proud Park. Having experienced a short break from play already this postseason, Dennis says they’ll stick to their gameplan and hope to come out on top once again next week. 

“We didn’t know if we managed it correctly,” Dennis said. “Obviously I think we might’ve been on the right path, so we’ll kind of do the same way. We’ll rest for a day or two before we come back in for some maintenance, try to balance some rest in the maintenance and do the best job and probably come back up next Thursday and get ready to go.”

June 4, 2023 | 12:05 am

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