South Laurel junior shortstop Daniel Neal may the 13th Region’s best player, and he came up with the big hit Friday night at Harlan County in another showdown of 13th Region favorites at HCHS.
Neal hit a two-run blast in the fifth inning off Harlan County sophomore Gage Burkhart to break a tie and send the Cardinals to a 3-1 win in a rematch of last year’s 13th Region Tournament semifinals, which Harlan County won. The Bears led 1-0 through three innings before South Laurel scored one in the fourth and two in the fifth.
Austin Vigeant pitched a complete game for the Cardinals, scattering nine hits with two strikeouts and no walks.
The Bears put the ball in play throughout the game but couldn’t capitalize on numerous scoring opportunities. Zach Doss and Sawyer Fields, both juniors, led Harlan County with two singles each. Scotty Bailey contributed a double. Connor Leisge, Brendan Rutherford, Tyler Cornett and Cole Wilson added one single each.
Trey Martin led the South Laurel offense with two hits from the leadoff spot. Neal and Taylor Morris added one hit each as the Cardinals were held without a hit in the final six spots in the order.
Tyler Cornett held the Cardinals scoreless through three innings before giving up a run in the fourth that was manufactured by Morris, who singled, stole second and third and scored on Braden Miller’s ground out. Cornett gave up one run on two hits with three strikeouts and two walks.
Burkhart retired the first two batters he faced in the fifth inning before giving up a double to left by Martin and then a homer to center by Neal.
Leisge didn’t allow a hit in two innings, striking out four, including the top of the order in the seventh inning.
Harlan County took a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Cornett singled and WIlson, the courtesy runner, stole second and scored on Brendan Rutherford’s hit.
The Bears left runners in scoring position in the third, fourth, fifth and seventh innings. Doss singled in the fifth inning but was thrown out at home on Bailey’s two-out double.
Harlan County returns to action Saturday at noon at home against North Laurel in a rematch of last year’s regional finals.
South Laurel 000 120 0 — 3 4 3
Harlan County 010 000 0 — 1 9 1
Vigeant and Brennan Miller; Cornett, Burkhart (5), Leisge (7) and Brendan Rutherford. WP — Vigeant. LP — Burkhart (0-1). HR — Neal (SL).