ONE TO GO FOR DUNBAR (June 21, 2003)

Lexington Herald-Leader (KY)
June 21, 2003
Section: Sports
Edition: Final
Page: C1

Mike Fields, Herald-Leader Staff Writer

Paul Dunbar is one win away from a state baseball title, and “tough hombre” Matt Byzet put the Bulldogs there with a gutsy pitching performance last night.

Byzet threw a two-hitter to lead the Bulldogs to a 3-1 victory over Apollo in the semifinals of the Big Blue Nation/KHSAA State Tournament at Applebee’s Park.
Dunbar (40-4) can set a state record for wins if it takes the title tonight.

“It’s so exciting,” Coach Mickey Marshall said. “All the games this year, and now we’re one away from history. I hope our guys are ready. I’ve got a feeling they will be.”

Byzet, a 6-foot-2 senior who wears his emotions on the sleeve of his jersey, was ready last night.

Staked to an early 3-0 lead, he breezed through the first four innings. He ran into trouble in the fifth, however. He hit three Apollo batters, walked another and surrendered a run.

“Matt was telling me all game, ‘You’re not taking me out,’ ” Marshall said. “I came back with, ‘Don’t make me.’ ”

Byzet didn’t. With the bases jammed, he got Apollo’s Jeff Martin on a line-out to left to end the inning.

“Jeff couldn’t have done any better,” Apollo Coach Bob Mantooth said. “He hit the ball on the nose but right at the left fielder. If it’d gone a little bit one way or the other, we tie the game.

“That’s baseball.”

Byzet regained control in the sixth and seventh and finished with a flourish. He fanned the last two batters, his sixth and seventh strikeouts of the night.

“When I play, I want to play the whole game,” he said. “It’s a pride thing. I love our relievers, but I want to finish what I start.”

Byzet has four complete-game wins in the playoffs and is 10-0 this season.

Not bad for a guy who was cut from the team last year after playing as a freshman and sophomore.

“I always knew he was a competitor,” Marshall said. “He just needed to mature a little. But that’s what makes him a little special — that fire in his gut. He’s a tough hombre. I’m glad he came back.”

So is Byzet.

“I didn’t really work hard last year, so when I got cut it was probably the best thing for me. It woke me up. It makes what I’ve done this season even more special.”

Dunbar followed a familiar script last night. It scratched out a run in each of the first three innings off Apollo starter Matt Head.

Craig Dunn put the Bulldogs up 1-0 when he reached on a fielder’s choice, moved to second on a groundout and scored on an error.

Rob Scott’s bases-loaded walk in the second brought in Kevin Paddock, whose double started the inning.

Dunbar made it 3-0 in the third on Josh Ellis’ double, Brett Hunt’s single and Paddock’s RBI groundout.

Jumping ahead early has been a habit for Dunbar, which has pushed across a run in the first inning in seven of 11 playoff games. Marshall just wishes his team would keep up the pressure.

“We take quality at-bats early, then go cruise control,” he said. “I hope we let our bats roll (in the finals).”

Dunbar has its pitching in order for tonight. Senior ace Josh Ellis (11-0), who went six innings of a 5-0 win over Webster County Wednesday night, will get the start. Sophomore Robby Reeves (6-1) is rested and ready for relief duty.

Tonight’s game

Paul Dunbar (40-4) vs. Male (27-10)

Where: At Applebee’s Park

When: 7 p.m.

Radio: WMJR-AM 1380

(1) by PHOTOS BY JANET WORNE , STAFF – Craig Dunn, right, and Rob Scott signaled Dunbar’s second out of the last inning against Apollo. Matt Byzet struck out the next batter.
(2) – Dunbar’s Kevin Paddock beat the throw to Apollo first baseman Brian Richards in the sixth inning. Paddock had one run and one RBI.
(3) – Dunbar senior Matt Byzet went the distance yesterday for the fourth time in the playoffs. He pitched his way out of trouble in the fifth inning to improve to 10-0 on the season.