Middlesboro Daily News
LONDON — The Middlesboro Yellow Jackets saw their memorable post season run come to an end Thursday with an 8-2 loss to South Laurel in the 13th Region championship game.
South Laurel got a two-run double from Alex Sears in the bottom of the first inning and a pair of two-run homers by Stephen Simpson and Trey Martin in the third to take control of the game. It was their second regional championship in the past four years.
“They don’t ever change. You win one and I think it fuels the fire even more. Not for you as an individual but to get your kids to feel that feeling of playing on the big stage,” South coach Wynn Harris said. “It’s their time to shine and you’re so excited for a group of kids that has worked so hard to see them get to go through that.”
Martin came on in relief with the bases loaded and one out in the top of the third. He worked out of that jam to keep the Cardinals in front 2-1 and then held the Jackets to just one run and one hit the rest of the way.
“When you play a quality opponent, the winning team is going to be the one who takes advantage of those situations. The kids tried hard and they battled, but it just wasn’t there tonight,” Middlesboro coach Bill Powell said. “I thought we came prepared and ready to play. It’s always tough, I don’t care who you are, to have a big emotional victory and come back the next day. We beat a team (North Laurel) that no one expected us to and it’s tough to go to the well twice in two days. I thought we were ready to play, but South is a very worthy opponent and they have a good team. That’s why they’re here.”
Middlesboro threatened early as Austin Baker drew a walk leading off the game and Jake Brock singled. Thomas Epperson then hit a fly ball to right and Baker appeared to tag up and advance to third, but he was ruled out for leaving the base early. Timmy Helton followed with a deep drive to right that would have been deep enough to score a run, but instead was the final out of the inning.
South put up two runs in the bottom of the inning on Sears’ double and never trailed.
Down 2-0, the Jackets threatened in the third. Chris Short led off with a base hit Nick Capps reached on an error. One out later Brock singled to load the bases and Epperson was hit by a pitch to force in a run. At that point Martin took over on the mound for Austin Vigeant and got Helton to hit into a 1-2 fielder’s choice. John Millett lined a shot into center field, but Trent Abner made a diving catch to end the inning and keep the Cardinals up 2-1.
South put up five runs in the bottom of the inning to take control of the game.
“Two to nothing you feel OK, when we come up and put the five-spot up with the two slams it was really a shot in the arm to our team and I think it really took some of the wind out of their sails,” Harris said. “I was very, very nervous based on the game they played against North Laurel (Wednesday). I knew that they could put runs up in bunches.”
Martin gave up just a triple to Short with two out in the fourth and a walk to Millett with one away in the sixth.
It was 7-1 going into the seventh and the Jackets tried to mount a late rally. Capps walked with one out and with two away Brock walked and Epperson was hit by a pitch. Helton worked another walk to force in a run, but Martin got Millett to fly out to center to end the game.
“Trey all year has been our number one or number two with Daniel Neal. We knew he was probably not going to be able to go seven innings and you saw that in the seventh,” Harris said. “We went with Austin Vigeant, he had given Harlan County trouble the last game of the year. He pitched a good first inning but we wanted to have our one or two in there in that situation.”
South Laurel (26-11) will play Ashland Blazer in the first round of the state tournament in Lexington at 6 p.m. on June 5.
“It’s going to be tough road, a tough tournament. We’re just fighting to live one day at a time and trying to make it one more game, that’s what we’ve done so far. You don’t have to be the best team in the entire tournament, just the best team on that night,” Harris said.
Middlesboro finishes the season with a record of 26-9.
The loss marked the final game for Middlesboro baseball coach Bill Powell, he had told the team earlier this year that this would be his final season. Powell coached the Jackets from 1982-2003 and then from 2009-12. During that time he compiled 553 wins and led the team to 19 district titles, five regional titles and took three completely different teams to the state final four. He was inducted into the Kentucky Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Middlesboro Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.
“I appreciate the opportunity to work with young people and coach all these years and I’ve enjoyed every moment of it,” Powell said.
Middlesboro was represented on the all-tournament team by Chris Short, Thomas Epperson and Jake Brock.
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Middlesboro 001 000 1 — 2 4 3
South Laurel 205 100 x — 8 10 1
Lucas Crawford and Bubba Brock; Austin Vigeant, Trey Martin (3) and Stephen Simpson. W — Martin. L — Crawford. HR — SL: Simpson, Martin.