Conner Leisge told the Harlan County seniors he was going to win the 52nd District Championship for them. The junior Black Bear came through on that promise Wednesday. Leisge struck out six batters in three dominant innings of relief and led the offense with two hits to lift Harlan County t0 a 9-4 victory over Middlesboro.
“I wanted to go out and do it for my seniors. I told them on graduation day that I was going to do it for them,” Leisge said. “I gave it all I could. I just wanted to do anything I could to help them get the win.”
With the game tied 3-3 after four innings, Leisge allowed just one hit while striking six in three innings of relief to claim the win.
“He was just massive on the mound. I think Conner threw harder tonight than he has ever threw,” said Harlan County coach John Lewis. “He wants to throw harder because he uses that with his off-speed too.”
The Black Bears got off to a quick start, scoring a pair of runs in the first inning.
Tyler Boggs started the offense with a single to right field on Tuesday — before rain postponed the contest until Wednesday. James Bond followed with a single to left field. Both runners advanced when Anthony Jenkins grounded out to the pitcher. Leisge drove in the first two runs of the game with a line-drive single to left field with two outs. The hit scored Bond and courtesy runner Chad Massingill.
Middlesboro answered with a run in the bottom of the inning, but Harlan County’s Andrew Dozier kept the Jackets from putting more runs on the board. The senior left fielder dove to take away a John Millett hit with no outs and the bases loaded. Jake Brock scored on the play, but Middlesboro was unable to get anything else against Boggs.
Both teams produced a run in the second inning.
Dozier led off the inning for Harlan County with a walk. He advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt from Blake Rutherford and moved to third on a wild pitch. Dozier later scored on a groundout from Boggs.
Tyler Yoakum reached base on a walk for Middlesboro. He later scored on a left field single from Brock.
The Yellow Jackets again had the bases loaded with no outs in the third inning. However, Boggs struck out Tyler Prater for the first out. Catcher Scotty Bailey then caught a Yoakum pop-up and raced to third base to double-up the runner for the final out of the inning.
Middlesboro tied the game with a run in the fourth inning.
Lucas Crawford started the offense with a single to left field. Crawford reached second on a sacrifice bunt and third on a wild pitch. He scored on a balk call on Boggs.
Boggs struck out five batters in four innings in the start. The senior scattered five hits and walked three batters.
“Boggs done a good job. His curveball wasn’t hitting his spots, and Conner came in and shut it down — just like during the year,” Lewis said.
Harlan County took control of the contest with five runs in the sixth inning. The Black Bears went hitless in the inning, but capitalized on five Middlesboro errors.
Leisge led off the inning with a walk. Zach Doss reached on an error to the pitcher. Massingill, a courtesy runner, scored on a throwing error on the play. Yoakum came in to pitch from that point. Doss later scored on a sacrifice fly from Sawyer Fields. Dozier was hit by a pitch. Rutherford followed by reaching on an infield error. Boggs drove in Dozier with a long error to center field. Rutherford and Boggs scored on the play. Courtesy runner Nick Cornett also scored in the inning.
“When it was 3-3 I think everybody on this side of the river was waiting on something to happen,” Lewis said. “I’m not taking anything away from Middlesboro, but there was something going to happen and it happened our way. I think the better team won.”
Middlesboro had one run in the sixth inning.
Prater reached base on a walk. Courtesy runner Jacob Schneider later scored on a groundout by Austin Jones.
Harlan County closed the scoring with a run in the seventh inning.
Anthony Jenkins reached on an error to third base. Nick Cornett came in to run the base paths. Cornett stole second base and scored sacrifice bunt from Doss.
“We gave them two runs in the first inning. We made an error in left field and gave up two runs. They went up three on us and we battled back to tie it up. We should have had that killer instinct to go out and put it out of reach. Our guys just didn’t do it,” said Middlesboro coach John Smith. “To be quite honest with you they didn’t beat us — we beat ourselves.”
Leisge led the Bears at the plate with a pair of singles. Boggs, Bond, Doss and Bailey each added a single.
Brian Hale had two singles to pace the Jackets. Brock, Crawford, Brandon Hale and Jessie Hoskins all added a single.
Brian Hale went five innings in a solid outing. He struck out six batters, while giving up five hits and three walks in the start. Yoakum struck out three hitters, while giving up one hit, one walk and hitting one batter in two innings of relief.
Boggs was named the 52nd District Tournament’s Most Valuable Player. The all-tournament team included: Bell County — Dylan Cox and Aaron Jenkins; Harlan — Corey Burns and Dylan McNiel; Harlan County — Scotty Bailey, Tyler Boggs, James Bond, Andrew Dozier and Conner Leisge; Middlesboro — Jake Brock, Lucas Crawford, Brian Hale and John Millett.
Harlan County (26-9) will face a district runner-up in the 13th Region Tournament at Knox Central on Monday, while Middlesboro (21-11) will meet a district champion.
— — — —
Harlan County 210 005 1 — 9 6 1
Middlesboro 110 101 0 — 4 6 6
Brian Hale, Yoakum (6) and Prater; Boggs, Leisge (5) and Bailey, Boggs (5). WP — Leisge. LP — Hale.