Three-peat district champs!

May 22, 2024

MCKEE, Ky.) – Your Clay County Tigers are the 2024 49th District Champions! The Tigers defeated Jackson County Tuesday night 6-4 to complete a three-peat, winning the title the last three years running. Back-to-back home runs by Talan Marcum and Tate Rice propelled Clay County over the Generals, as did strong pitching by Brandin Crawford.

Tiger Head Coach Jason Smith was thrilled with the win and had nothing but high praise for the team and the fans. “It was a fantastic team win tonight,” said Smith. “We had so many guys step up in key moments. Aiden “Baby Bear” Wagers got a huge hit to start the rally, Talan and Tate’s home runs, Brandin’s pitching, Hayden Crockett had two monster hits and the dugout was involved the entire game. So proud of these kids.”

The rally Coach Smith referenced began in the bottom of the 5th inning but let’s wind back and go to the early innings. Jackson County seemed to be in control, Holding the Tigers scoreless through the first three innings, loading the box score with strikeouts. For a moment, Clay County looked lost at the plate. The Tigers found themselves down 3-0 heading into the 4th inning, with pressure mounting.

That pressure wasn’t felt by the players in the Tiger dugout. Coach Smith gave a fiery speech, and the Tigers began to dig in. Down 3-0, bottom of the 4th, the Tigers had two outs following a Tate Rice strikeout / Talan Marcum caught stealing. A double by Brandin Crawford and a double from Hayden Crockett to score Crawford slowed the bleeding, cutting into the Generals lead. Tyson Wagers stepped in and hit a whizzing ground ball that forced a Jackson County error, pushing across Crockett, now 3-2 Jackson County.

The Generals weren’t going away easy. Two walks in the 5th inning had tension high, but Crawford showed why he is a true D1 baseball player, getting himself out of the jam with two consecutive strikeouts. That fired up the Tigers into an even rowdier frenzy, which led to the explosive bottom of the 5th inning.

Aiden Wagers stepped in with one out and crushed a hard hit single to begin the rally as aforementioned. Aiden Roberts follows with a single, which set the stage for the biggest play in the game. Talan Marcum hit a no-doubter on a 3-1 count that sailed over the right field wall, sending the Tigers and the fans into a craze. Clay County regained the lead, and all the momentum in one swift swing, 5-3 Tigers. As if that wasn’t enough, Tate Rice swatted a laser home run to straightaway center field to pour salt in the Generals open wound, now 6-3.

The game hadn’t ended, but the momentum was all on the Tigers side, and it stayed that way until the very end. Brandin Crawford finished his day on the mound with 125 pitches thrown, 12 strikeouts, allowing only five hits. That was more than enough to earn the win, while Marcum relieved him in the final inning striking out one batter, notching the save. These Tigers stared adversity dead in the face, smacked it, and took their trophy.

The toughness has been there all year, says Coach Smith. “This group has been mentally strong all season,” he said. “They’ve bought into the process that we’ve been pushing. They knew the hits would come if they would just settle in and have some quality at bats. A lot of teams would’ve laid down after the start we had in this game, but this group kept fighting, scratching, and pushed across runs. I can’t speak enough about their will to win.”

Not many kids can say they had a performance like Talan Marcum had in the big win either. Marcum finished 2-3 at the plate with a three-run home run, and a double. Marcum had a miscue on the base path, but he immediately entered the dugout and said, “I’ll make up for that”. Coach Smith had high praise for the sophomore. “Talan is a great player and has really stepped up big the past couple weeks after Ethan (Jackson) went down with an injury. Talan showed incredible maturity after his mistake, telling us all he would make up for it in that next at-bat, and he did it with a bang. So proud of him on and off the field.”

The Tigers will enjoy this 49th District title, but there’s plenty more baseball to still be played. The 13th Region tournament looms ahead next week, and that’s where the focus must shift. “We’re going to enjoy this district championship tonight and tomorrow, and we will be back to work on Thursday,” said Coach Smith. “We will be focusing heavily on getting our comfort back at the plate and making sure our defense continues to play well. Offensively, it was a tough night for us in some situations, but these guys are ready to get in the cages and get where we need to be.”

Coach Smith also wanted to thank the crowd for making the trip, as it was a sea of black and gold behind the plate and up the first base sideline. “I want to personally thank each and every fan who made the trip and supported us, we went into a hostile environment, but our crowd made us feel right at home. We love you guys and thank you! Big Clay is just different!”

Talan Marcum 2-3, 3 RBI; Tate Rice 1-4, 1 RBI; Brandin Crawford 1-2; Hayden Crockett 2-3, 1 RBI; Aiden Wagers 1-3; Aiden Roberts 2-3.