BOWLING GREEN -- One year ago, the Hopkinsville Tigers watched the Second Region championship game.
What a difference a year makes.
The young Hopkinsville High School team showed up to Western Kentucky University on Thursday night and took care of business, defeating Caldwell County 9-5 to win the Second Region Championship.
"(We were) 9-22 last year, beat out of the first round of region, then turn around -- we're region champs," Hopkinsville head coach Blake Leach said. "I'm proud of the way they went about it all year. Once again, it got down to adversity. They scored a run every inning but two. But we scored more, so I'm happy."
While not many thought Hopkinsville would be the team standing tall after the tournament, senior John Duvall said they've been planning to make this run since they started the season.
"It's unbelievable," Duvall said. "A lot of people didn't have us getting here, but we've been talking about this since December. We've wanted to win districts and region -- we didn't get the district, but we came back and got what mattered the most. We don't have all these Division-I signees or commits, but we made it happen.
"Every day, we came out and tried to do our best. Some practices didn't go as well as others, but we battled together and we stayed as a team."
Hoptown wasted no time getting started, scoring five runs in the first two innings, while freshman pitcher Tim Cansler held the heavy hitting Tigers to just two runs through two innings of play.
The top of Hopkinsville's lineup was solid to start, feeding off the momentum it has had in the rest of the tournament. Caleb Bapp, Layne Jorgensen and Duvall all head RBIs through the first two innings.
Leach told his players to come out hot to start the game.
"Be ready to go," he said. "We saw that they were starting (Stallins) and figured they'd bring in
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(Walls), but he did a good job."
Caldwell got to Cansler in the third. Tate VanHooser led the inning off with a home run on the very first pitch of the inning. A few batters later, Cansler's day was done.
Leach looked to another young pitcher on his roster to do work in Logan Durst. He said he trusted the two young guys to go out and get the job done.
"They've done a good job for us all year," he said. "This is a big situation, but they knew it -- they weren't scared of it. We just told them we needed them to come in and throw strikes and that's what they did to give us a chance."
Hoptown hit a lull in the middle portion of the game as Caldwell brought in pitcher Deontaye Walls, whose slower style got to the Tigers.
While Hopkinsville was struggling, Caldwell was chipping away. The Tigers scored runs in the fourth and sixth inning to cut the deficit to one heading into seventh.
But in the top of the seventh frame, Hoptown seized its moment.
Capitalizing on Caldwell errors and a hit here and there, Hopkinsville scored three runs on the seventh to put it up 9-5.
From there, senior Robert Justus closed the door on Caldwell's season, and the celebration commenced.
The Tigers now move on to represent the Second Region in the semi-state game. They will take on First Region Champion McCracken County on Saturday at WKU.
Leach said he knows what the Mustangs are capable of and expects a fight on Saturday.
"I'm expecting them to be really good just like they have been the last five or six years it feels like," Leach said. "We're going to have our work cut out for us. If we fight and play like we did tonight, we've got a chance. We're down to 16 teams in the state. One game, anything can happen. We'll go back and get prepared and see what happens."
Duvall said the Tigers will be ready to play on Saturday.
"McCracken is a very good team and they're not going to give us anything," Duvall said. "We're going to have to earn everything. We're going to have to come ready and put runs on the board."
First pitch is set for 4 p.m. on Saturday afternoon at Nick Denes Field in Bowling Green.
Hopkinsville 9, Caldwell Co. 5
HHS 230 010 3 9 9 1
CCHS 111 101 0 5 7 4
WP: Cansler (2.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 BB, K)
LP: Stallins (1 IP, 2 H, 5 R, 2 BB)
HHS: Myers (0-2, R), Bapp (2-3, 2B, 2 R, 2 RBI), Jorgensen (2-4, R, RBI), Duvall (1-4, 2 R, RBI), Justus (1-2, RBI), Wolf (1-1, 2B, RBI), Balthrop (1-4, R, RBI), Snyder (0-4, R), Chaudoin (1-2)
CCHS: Parker (1-3, 2B, 2 R), VanHooser (2-4, HR, R, 3 RBI), Holub (1-4, RBI), Lacy (1-3), L. East (2-4, 2B, R, RBI)