Just two weeks away from the opening of Kentucky High School baseball practice. Here's my picks for the Fifth Region:
1. LARUE COUNTY - The Hawks lost only 3 seniors from last year's 29-9 team and, although they were good ones, the core of their team returns. Most of the key returners played summer ball. Hard not to pick Larue as the pre-season top team in the Region.
2. MARION COUNTY - Only 18-20 in 2016 but lost only one senior who batted down in the lineup and played right field. Lost 9 one-run games in 2016, one of which was to Central Hardin in Region Tournament that could have gone either way. Returning 8 starters and its top 3 pitchers, most of them in this year's Junior class and, guess who hosts the Regional Tournament in 2017? Marion.
3/4. ELIZABETHTOWN/CENTRAL HARDIN - Hard to ignore two things about these two teams. First, one of these two teams has won the Regional tournament in each of the last 10 years and five times they've played each other in the championship game. That tells you that one or both likely will be there again. On the other hand, both lost 10 or so seniors, nearly the entire starting lineups for each. That should tell you these teams should be down this year. However with their respective pipelines, count them toward the top again.
5. TAYLOR COUNTY - Got to be the youngest lineup in the Fifth Region. Unfortunately, even good young kids often play like young kids. Example: The young Cards fell in the first round to the weakest team to make the 5th Region Tournament in 2016. They were 20-12 in 2016 with most of the team returning but pitching could be a problem for them. Probably a year or two away.
6. NORTH HARDIN - Returns almost everyone from an 18-16 team in 2016. However, other than a good win vs. Meade County, maybe beat only one other team with a winning record. Should be a bit better in 2017 but likely a big gap between the Trojans and the top teams in Region.
BEST OF THE REST: If BARDSTOWN finds some pitching, they could advance to the Region out of the 19th District since that's probably the weakest of the Districts. BETHLEHEM returns almost everyone from just an average team from last year. Can't see how WASHINGTON COUNTY will be improved with the loss of Trey Coulter and other seniors.