Jarrod E. Stephens
The Ashland Beacon
Every season, no matter the sport, begins with high hopes and a desire to reach goals established by the team. The 2020 high school baseball season fell victim to COVID-19, but the goals of one local baseball team carried over from the 2020 season to 2021 and were fulfilled in the 16th region championship game.
The Raceland Ram High School baseball team ended a thirty-year regional championship drought with a convincing win over the Ashland Tomcats. The win was the icing on the cake for a season that saw the Rams put together a school record 31-win season which eclipses the old record of 30 games which was set in 2019.
Of course, after such a victory the coaches and players had a lot to reflect upon and Raceland Coach Marty Mills gave all the credit to his players for being versatile and for fulfilling a goal that they actually set for 2020.
“This year we sometimes played 13-14 kids in games. That’s a lot of kids in a lot of different positions but they understood their roles and did well,” Mills said. “We actually had one kid who was a courtesy runner in an early game of the regional tournament, and he was our left fielder during the championship game.”
Even before the postseason play began the team navigated the tricky waters of covid but staying focused on the goal of a region title kept them motivated. “This season was a matter of trying to get through the day to day. Being mindful of where you were at and what you are doing so you didn’t get quarantined was tough. Then things finally started to get opened up,” Mills commented.
Triple-threat Jake Heighton who spends time on the mound, behind the plate catching and in the box crushing fastballs also stated that navigating the season took some personal sacrifice, “We knew we had to put the team first to stay out of quarantine and keep our season going. It was all about making smart choices and putting the team over yourself.”
Fast forward to the district tournament and in the finals, Raceland took a tough loss to Greenup County which according to both Mills and Heighton, the loss proved to be a catalyst for greater things.
“Greenup simply outplayed us, and the loss helped us to refocus. It really helped us,” Mills said.
Heighton also said the loss really got their attention and refocused the whole team. “That Greenup game taught us some discipline. We learned to treat every opponent as if they were the best team that we were ever going to face.”
Mills, a 1985 graduate of Raceland, knew that at the conclusion of this season he will be losing four seniors who play pivotal roles on the team but he’s hopeful that their “Iron sharpens iron” motto truly carries over for the younger players on the team. “Both our middle school and JV teams had great seasons and we hope this win will motivate them to continue to be successful.”
Players and coaches will never know what could have unfolded in the 2020 season, but Heighton made it clear that the 2021 Regional Championship wasn’t just for the current team.
“Not being able to play last year was terrible, so we had to do what last year’s seniors weren’t able to do,” Heighton said. “After the championship game we had a photo taken with the trophy and last year’s seniors because they were part of this win.”
Congratulations to the Raceland Rams High School baseball team for their record-setting 31-win season and 2021 Regional Championship title.
16th Region Tournament
Raceland 11 Ashland 1
The Tomcats plated a run in the first inning on three hits including an RBI single by Ryan Brown but Jake Heighton took control and limited Ashland to only one hit and no runs the rest of the game.
Colton Holman had three hits for the Rams including a two-run single during Raceland’s five-run fifth inning.
Raceland advanced to the State Tournament for the first time in 30 years.
Raceland 6 Boyd County 0
Kirk Pence held Boyd County hitless until a single up the middle by Jake Biggs broke up the no-hitter in the seventh inning. Pence struck out 11 and also followed a two run homer by Jake Heighton with a blast of his own. Heighton had four RBIs and two round trippers.
Ashland 16 East Carter 7
The Tomcats pounded out 14 hits including two doubles and five RBIs by Sawyer Alley and a double and triple by Brett Mullins in defeating East Carter 16 to 7 to advance to the championship game against Raceland. Neyshawn Peppers collected three hits and two RBIs and also scored two runs in the win.
Nick Jividen held the Raiders scoreless until the fourth inning when Trevor Cline led off the frame with a home run.
Whitley County 6 Raceland 5
Raceland outhit the Colonels 11 to six but four errors proved to be costly and kept the Rams from winning their first state tournament baseball game.
Kirk Pence struck out 5 and only allowed six hits and an earned run but errors in the third and fifth inning allowed five unearned runs to score in the Rams 6 to 5 loss.
Jake Heighton led Raceland with two doubles and a couple of RBIs.
The Rams finish the season at 31-8 winning 24 of their last 28 games.