MIDDLESBORO - Katie Johnson drove in five runs with four hits, including a three-run homer, and the Harlan County Lady Bears held off Bell County 12-8 in Monday’s first round game at the 52nd District Tournament.
“We got off to kind of a slow start and then we started smoking it pretty good,” said Lady Bear coach Tim McElyea. “Then we kind of lost our composure.”
The Lady Cats played tough early on and jumped out to a 1-0 lead. Morgan Garnett doubled with one down in the top of the first and came around to score on Shasta Center’s base hit back up the middle.
Garnett worked out of a bases loaded jam in the bottom of the inning, but the Harlan County finally broke through in the second. With two out, Jesse Johnson reached on an error in the outfield and then came around to score as Katelyn Stittums reached on a throwing error. Katie Johnson followed with an RBI single to center to bring in Stittums with the go-ahead run.
Johnson pitched around errors in both the third and fourth innings and Bell second baseman Alexis Williams made at least three outstanding plays over the first three frames as the score remained 2-1 until the bottom of the fourth.
“I’m proud of our girls, we’ve got a good group. They’ve struggled, but they stick together,” Lady Cat coach Angie Hammons said. “They showed that tonight when they rallied. It’s just those mistakes that come back to get us. That’s been the headline of our story this year.”
Chyanna Harris led off the Lady Bear fourth with a double down the rightfield line, Jesse Johnson was hit by a pitch and then Stittums belted an RBI double just out of the reach of Bell center fielder Haley Goodman and off the fence. Katie Johnson followed with her three-run shot deep over the fence in straight away left to make it 6-1.
With two out in the inning, Bridget Robinson singled to center and came around to score as Farren Clark reached on an error. Walks to Sarah Evans and Harris loaded the bases and Jesse Johnson delivered a three-run double to put the Lady Bears up 10-1.
Johnson wasn’t the same after the lengthy inning. With one out in the fifth she hit Hillary Lowe with a pitch, walked Garnett, hit Centers and walked Jess Sanders. All four of them would come around to score on a combination of wild pitches and passed balls to bring the Lady Cats within 10-5.
“(Johnson) hit that home run and I honestly think it keyed us up too much because she got back on the mound and lost the strike zone for a little bit,” added McElyea. “We’re just happy. A win’s a win, no matter how you slice it. And Bell fought us, man, they were right there.”
Clark’s RBI single in the bottom of the inning made it 11-5. But Johnson hit Whitney Mullins and Williams with pitches to start the Bell sixth. Seventh-grader Destiny Jenkins took over in the pitcher’s circle and got one out before Lowe doubled to left to bring in both runners. Lowe was thrown out after rounder second and Jenkins got out of the inning with the score 11-7.
Katie Johnson’s RBI after two more Lady Cat errors in the sixth pushed the lead back to 12-7.
“The fourth inning was a killer. Harlan County had some really good hits and there’s nothing you can do about that home run,” Hammons said. “The girls came back and rallied, shook up the pitcher a little bit. We could of had the game, but we made some costly errors.”
Bell County tried to rally in the seventh. With one out Sanders singled and Goodman doubled to center. Beverly Burkhart reached on a bunt single as Sanders scored. Goodman also tried to score on the play, but was thrown out at the plate. A pair of wild pitches put Burkhart on third and Mullins walked and stole second, but Jenkins got Williams to fly out to center to end the game.
“For Destiny to come in like that and throw strikes, that’s big for us. She’s got some good quality innings, but nothing with that type of pressure,” McElyea said.
Katie Johnson led the Lady Bears with four hits, including a home run, and five RBIs. Stittums singled and doubled and scored two run, Jesse Johnson drove in three with a double, Harris also doubled while Robinson and Clark added hits in the game.
Johnson was also the winning pitcher. Over five innings she gave up seven runs on two hits while striking out seven, walking three and hitting five.
For the Lady Cats Lowe drove in two with a double and was also hit by a pitch and scored a run; Garnett doubled, walked and scored twice; Centers and Burkart had RBI singles; Sanders singled, walked and scored twice; Goodman doubled and walked while Mullins and Williams both were hit by pitches and scored runs.
Bell County ends the season with a record of 4-16.
“This year was definitely a learning experience. I’m losing three strong senior starters, but I’ve still got six that are pretty fresh: one junior and the rest are sophomores and freshmen,” Hammons said. “I feel pretty good about the upcoming season, but this year has been a bit of a disappointment for us.”
Harlan County (17-11) will be looking for a fourth straight district championship when they play host Middlesboro in today’s championship game at 6 p.m.
“I took over in April and I know the tradition so hopefully we can get back to that level,” McElyea said. “Middlesboro’s a tough team, we’ve played them three times this year. I’m just hoping for the best.”
— — —
Bell County…100 042 1 — 8 6 7
Harlan Co…..020 811 x — 12 10 2
Garnett, Baker (4) and Sanders; KJohnson, Jenkins (6) and Robinson. W-KJohnson. L-Garnett. HR-HC:KJohnson.