Middlesboro played without two starters who had missed school after the team got back late from Tuesday night’s game in Ashland.
“I don’t want to make excuses. We tried to get them to reschedule the game Monday because we were going to be getting back late from Ashland (Tuesday night). The kids got back about 1 o’clock, got up and went to school and we played. That’s the breaks, I guess,” said Middlesboro coach Bill Powell. “That played a part in it. We told the kids to step up anyway, but we weren’t sharp.”
Harlan County jumped on top early with two runs in the first and three more in the third. Starting pitcher Scotty Bailey held the Jackets to just two hits over four shutout innings. He struck out three and didn’t walk a batter.
Bailey led off top of the first with a base hit, advanced to second on a passed ball and to third on a wild pitch. Braxton Fields then sent a sacrifice fly to right field to bring Bailey in for a 1-0 lead.
Tyler Boggs doubled and then scored on a James Bond hit with two out.
“We’ll be fine, we’re not worried about the seeding,” said Harlan County coach John Lewis. “We had timely hitting with guys on base. We didn’t bunt any, we didn’t steal any but we didn’t have to.”
In the third Bailey reached on an error and walks to Fields and Boggs loaded the bases. Tyler Dozier followed with a two-run single to right. The fifth Bear run scored as Bond grounded into a 6-3 double play. Middlesboro shortstop Thomas Epperson fielded the ball at the bag and threw on to first to complete the double-play.
Harlan County added two more runs in the fifth. With two out, Dixon doubled to left-center and then scored as Bond reached on an error. Chris Southerland then singled to center and Middlesboro centerfielder Nick Capps made a diving stab at the ball, but it bounced off of him and Bond was able to score to make it 7-0.
The Jackets got on the board in bottom the fifth off of Black Bear reliever Connor Leisge. Capps started the rally with a walk and one out later Jake Brock was hit by a pitch. Epperson also walked to load the bases and Timmy Helton followed with a three-run triple off the fence in left-center.
Lewis explained that he chose to take Bailey out after four to save him for another possible meeting with the Jackets.
“Off speed hurt Middlesboro bad today and we’ll look into that. Bailey did a great job. Leisge came in a did a good job. That one big hit he gave up, he had an 0-2 count and just missed his spot,” Lewis said. “You know, this is district play and you don’t want to show too much. We’re the number one and two seeds no matter what. They didn’t show everything either.”
The Bears took advantage of four walks and four wild pitches in the sixth inning to score three more runs.
Andrew Dozier scored on a wild pitch, Boggs had and RBI single and Bond had another sacrifice fly in the inning as the Harlan County lead grew to 10-3.
It was still 10-3 when the Jackets took advantage of a Bear error to put up four runs of their own.
Austin Baker started the rally with a single up the middle, Jake Brock walked and Epperson sent a fly ball to right. It was deep enough for Baker to tag at second, but the Harlan County outfield dropped the ball as he was anticipating making a throw to third. That loaded the bases with no outs.
Leisge came back to strike out the next two batters, but walked Tyler Prater to force in one run. Tyler Yoakum then sliced an 0-2 pitch past first base for a two-run single.
With courtesy runners Brandyn Ball and Major Edwards at the corners and two down, the Jackets used a designed play to score their seventh run.
Edwards allowed himself to get picked off at first and stayed in a run-down long enough for Ball to score and make the final 10-7. That last run was key as run differential is the first tie-breaker for district seeding. Coupled with Middlesboro’s 5-1 win at Harlan County Monday, the Jackets will be the first seed for the district tournament.
“We definitely lost and we didn’t come here to get the one seed, we came to win. When it became apparent that we may not win, we changed our focus on getting the runs to get that top seed,” Powell said. “I don’t know what it’s worth, there’s not much difference between Harlan and Bell County but it’s nice being the home team through the district.”
Bailey got the win for Harlan County (19-3, 5-1). The Bears play at Leslie County today.
“We were a little impatient and went after some pitches we shouldn’t have,” Powell said. “You have to give him credit for it.”
Bubba Brock pitched most of the game for the Jackets, other than four batters that Epperson faced in the sixth. Brock kept Middlesboro (17-6, 5-1) in the game most of the night. Over 6-2/3 innings he allowed seven runs, four earned, on eight hits while striking out four and walking four.
“He worked this winter on pitching and our other catchers didn’t come out until late because they played basketball. But he can beat some people and he did a nice job keeping us in the game,” Powell said. “We didn’t play a flawless game behind him defensively and that makes a difference.”
The Jackets game with Corbin scheduled for today has been canceled, they’ll host South Laurel Friday at 6 p.m.
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Harlan Co. 203 023 0 — 10 8 4
Middlesboro 000 030 4 — 7 5 5
Bailey, Leisge and Boggs; BBrock, Epperson (6), BBrock (6) and Prater, BBrock (6), Prater (6). W — Bailey. L — BBrock.