HORSE CAVE – Tony Spears had never played high school baseball before lacing up his cleats for Caverna last year.
This year, the team's lone senior helped lead Caverna to its most successful season in a dozen years.
Spears was recognized before Caverna's game Thursday against Louisville Western, and the Colonels made sure their senior was sent off with a win. Caverna starting pitcher Spencer Shirley struck out seven batters and tossed a complete game, and the Colonels' offense took care of the rest in a 10-3 victory over the Warriors.
It was Caverna's seventh win of the season, the most for the program since 2007.
Caverna coach Frank Stratton said he was thrilled for Spears.
"Last year when we started the program back up, he hadn't played before, anywhere," Stratton said. "But he came out and stuck with it and has really turned himself into a good outfielder, and he helps us out with his stick sometimes and his speed on the base paths."
Caverna didn't field a team in 2017, and only played three games in 2016.
Though Spears is relatively new to baseball, he played basketball and football for Caverna. He said joining the baseball team was a smooth transition because he already knew many of the players from other sports.
"The school is a small school, so we know everybody. You grow up around these people and it's just like a family," Spears said.
And the family went home happy Thursday night.
Caverna scored three runs in the second inning, taking advantage of walks, stolen bases and Western miscues. Colton Riley scored the final run of the inning on a wild pitch, as his slide knocked the baseball out of the pitcher's glove at the plate.
The Warriors fought back in the third inning, as Austin Lawes and Zadrian Kessler each drove home a run with singles to cut the lead to 3-2.
After Drew Rhodes singled and Trey Webb drew a walk to start the bottom of the third, Shirley helped his own cause with a two-RBI single. He would score on a wild pitch, and Caverna led 6-2 after the third inning.
In the bottom of the fourth, Rhodes and Webb drove home runs with singles and both came home to score on a sacrifice groundout by Shirley. Hayden Zavaleta hit a triple to the fence, but he would be tagged out at home during the next at-bat after trying to score on a wild pitch.
Lawes singled in the top of the fifth inning and stole second base. Kessler drove him home with a single to make it 10-3, but the Warriors would get no closer.
Stratton said Caverna was a little anxious at the plate early on, but they settled down and had quality at-bats later in the game.
"Once the bats woke up, I think we played pretty well," he said.
Spears credited Shirley for having a dominant performance on the mound.
"He's our ace. He's a good pitcher," Spears said. "He's only a junior, and he's only going to get better."
Spears said wearing a Caverna jersey has been special to him.
"Going to Caverna, you can have pride. A lot of people look down on us because we're a smaller school, and we haven't had a lot of success in previous years," he said. "So whenever we get wins and beat teams that we're not supposed to beat, it just means a lot to me."
Western and Caverna were slated to play a second game Thursday night. Caverna will play LaRue County in the first round of next week's District 18 tournament.