HARDIN VALLEY — When Tyler Roach was first named head coach of the Hardin Valley Academy varsity baseball program, one of the first conversations he had was with senior Bryce Jenkins.
“When I first got the job, Bryce came to me and said ‘Coach, I’ve never won a playoff game before,’” Roach said.
“I said ‘Well good. You’re going to be on the mound, so let’s see what you’ve got.’”
What Jenkins had was some electrical stuff. He hurled a three-hit shutout to lift the second-seeded Hawks to a 5-0 victory over Knoxville West in an opening-round game of the District 4-AAA Tournament at HVA Friday, May 3.
And he now has the once-elusive postseason victory.
“It’s the goal for all of us, winning that first playoff game,” said Jenkins, who pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the sixth inning with the Hawks clinging to a 2-0 lead. “We all want to win state, and that’s the first step, winning the district.
“We were only up 2-0, so if they scored any runs, they were going to be right there. It was just big to get out of it and keep adding on and make sure they couldn’t come back."
In the inning, the No. 7-seeded Rebels (20-13-1) mounted a two-out rally after Jenkins retired Bo Millikan and Max Oliver via the ground out.
The HVA senior then walked Grant Tierney and Jake Wilkinson before Jake Wilhoit singled to load the bases.
Hardin Valley (18-11 after the win) averted any damage when shortstop Lukas Cook made a big play on Brandon Langeberg’s grounder up the middle to end the winning.
“That’s just baseball,” West head coach Buzz McNish said. “Cook makes a great play on that ball up the middle.
“We had our chances. We had some chances early but that’s just baseball. Give them credit, they made some big plays. We hit the ball hard today but we hit it right at them. We just hit it right at somebody.”
The Rebels had a pair of runners picked off by Jenkins, who had a leadoff single in the bottom of the sixth to start the rally that would put the game away for the Hawks.
Jenkins, who was locked in a classic pitchers’ duel with West junior Wilhoit heading into the fifth frame, caught both Langenberg and Jake Wilkinson on the bases.
The Hawks finally broke the scoreless tie in the fifth.
Jaylen Jones started things with a one-out double and Archer Wong-Shasteen reached on an error that allowed Jones to score the game’s first run.
Alex Dunlap then had an RBI triple that plated Wong-Shasteen to make it 2-0.
Jenkins turned the Rebels away in the sixth before the Hawks added three runs in the bottom of the frame to put the game out of reach.
Jenkins, who struck out six and walked three, led off with a single and was lifted for courtesy runner Mason Speenburg. Cook and Cam Fisher each singled, with Fisher’s hit bringing home Speenburg to make it 3-0.
Conner Hubler’s sacrifice fly plated Cook and Fisher scored on a single by Jones to make it 5-0.
Roach was relieved to pick up his first tournament win.
“Every team in our district is dangerous,” Roach said. “Any of these teams out here can beat anybody.
“Bryce did a good job, but Wilhoit pitched well too," he added. "You have to get a lead on him when you get a chance because he’s hard to hit and almost impossible to beat. We play in the toughest district in the state.
"Anybody in our district can finish in the top three of anybody else’s conference with no problem.”