Good pitchers know how to capitalize on solid defense behind them to find a way to win.
Great pitchers can sometimes find a way to win even when their defense isn’t very good.
Harlan County senior righthander Connor Leisge bailed out his defense on a couple of occasions late in a 2-1 win Monday over visiting Bell County. The Black Bears had four errors, including three in the final two innings, but the HCHS ace left the runners stranded as he finished off a complete game to improve to 3-0. Leisge struck out eight, walked none and gave up four hits, including two of the infield variety and a double to deep left that was misplayed.
“He didn’t really have to reach back the first few innings, but we didn’t score any runs for him,” Harlan County coach John Lewis said. “He worked his tail off, but when you get in the late innings in a 2-1 game it puts stress on any pitcher. He did a good job.”
The Bobcats fell to 10-6 but showed they are among the region’s most improved teams.
“He’s probably the best pitcher in the region,” said Bell County coach Scott Chaney of Leisge. “They run ruled us last year. Our kids are trying to get some confidence, and slowly but surely we’re building the confidence. We tried to hang in against one of the best teams in the region. We’re not hanging our heads. We played well, and Harlan County is a great team,:
Harlan County (11-5) struck for single runs in the opening two innings against Bell County junior righthander Austin North, who allowed five hits with no strikeouts and one walk. Zach Turner, also a junior righthander, shut out the Bears over the final five innings as he gave up six hits with two strikeouts and no walks.
The Bears ran themselves out of several scoring opportunities early with two runners caught stealing by Bell catcher Aaron Jenkins and another thrown out at third trying to advance on a hit.
“I think they got humbled. They had won seven in a row and just got it stuck to them. We didn’t have any focus,” Lewis said. “We had too mental mistakes. We had left 10 runners on base by the third or fourth inning. We made two first outs at third base. We didn’t execute. Their heads weren’t in the game. Bell County played well enough to beat us.”
Harlan County started a two-out uprising in the first inning as Leisge singled and courtesy runner Cole Wilson stole second, then scored on Tyler Cornett’s double. A single by Anthony Jenkins and walk to Zach Doss loaded the bases, but Bell starter Austin North worked out of the jam by getting Brendan Rutherford on a grounder to third base.
Chance Brown was hit by a pitch to open the second inning, then moved up on Blake Rutherford’s bunt single and scored on Scotty Bailey’s hit. The Bears ran themselves out of a bigger inning as Rutherford was thrown out at third on Bailey’s hit and Bailey was caught stealing.
The Bears loaded the bases with one out in the third inning on consecutive hits by Cornett, Jenkins and Doss, but Turner retired Brendan Rutherford and Brown to end the threat.
Bell broke through for a run in the fifth inning thanks to some shaky HCHS defense. Chase Woolum doubled to open the inning on a ball that Cole WIlson was slow to get to in left field. Hayden Gilbert was safe on a fielder’s choice when the Bears botched a rundown after Leisge speared a grounder and threw to third. Turner followed with a single to center that brought home Woolum when the ball skipped past Sawyer Fields for an error.
Caleb Smith led off the Bell sixth inning by reaching on an error on a bunt. Leisge worked himself out of trouble by retiring the next two hitters on a grounders back to the mound, including standout first baseman Dylan Cox, who was retired on a 1-6-3 double play
Jacob Rose and Chase Woolum opened the seventh inning by reaching base on errors, putting the potential tying and go-ahead runs on base. Leisge got the lead runner on a bunt back to the mound by Hayden GIlbert, then got Turner on a pop to Bailey at shortstop before striking out Jared Slusher to end the game.
Cornett had a double and single to lead the Harlan County offense. Bailey and Jenkins each added two singles. Fields, Doss, Cole Wilson and Blake Rutherford had one single each.
Woolum, Jenkins, Rose and Turner each had one hit for Bell County (10-6).
The two teams play again Tuesday at Log Mountain.
Bell County000 010 0 — 1 4 0
Harlan County110 000 x — 2 11 4
North, Turner (3) and Jenkins. WP — Leisge (3-0). LP — North.