LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
HARLAN—Last year, the South Laurel Cardinals entered the 13th Region Tournament as the favorites, only to be knocked off in the semifinals.
That loss seemed to add fuel to the fire of this year’s team. Coming into this year’s tournament, the Cards felt like they had something to prove after the heartache of last season.
Thursday night, any residual effects of last season were washed away as the Cardinals out-dueled Corbin, 4-1, to capture the 13th Region title and a trip to Whitaker Bank Ballpark for the state tournament.
“It’s a great feeling for this group of juniors and seniors who endured what happened last year,” South Laurel coach Wynn Harris said. “They wanted it.”
It was an old-fashioned pitcher’s duel for the first four innings, as Daniel Neal waged battle with Kevin Goins, with both pitcher’s keeping the opposing team off the scoreboard. Harris praised the effort of both hurlers.
“They both threw great,” Harris said. “It was a great game. Nip and tuck until the end.”
Corbin would be the first to break through, scoring an unearned run in the bottom of the fifth inning as the Cards committed two errors.
“We have a tendency to have one of those innings,” Harris said. “We had one against Knox Central and one against North Laurel. The question is whether we can survive those innings. If we can, I’ll take our chances and our resolve to overcome them.”
Nick Vorbeck led off the inning with a hot shot to third, where Braden Miller bobbled the ball, recovered and fired a bullet to first, where the umpire ruled that the throw had pulled Zach Allen off the bag. When Neal tried to pick Vorbeck off at first, the ball sailed into foul territory in right field and the Corbin player advanced all the way to third base.
South Laurel brought its infield in, and Peyton Buford grounded to short, where Trey Martin fielded the ball and threw it to the plate in an effort to get Vorbeck, but Taylor Morris couldn’t hold onto the ball and the Redhounds had a 1-0 lead. Corbin could have done more damage as it had the bases loaded with only one out, but Neal worked his way out of the jam by striking out Phillip Jones and getting Goins to hit into a fielder’s choice, forcing the runner out at second.
Any momentum Corbin had quickly swung back to South Laurel in the top of the sixth, as the Cards finally broke through, scoring two runs to take a 2-1 lead. Prior to that inning, the Cards had left five runners on base.
It would be Allen, who finished the game 3-for-4 with three singles, getting things going with a one out single.
“Zach’s been that guy all year for us,” Harris said. “We have a line-up full of guys like that. But it’s the defensive effort he gives us, nothing gets by him in the dirt. He makes our defense better.”
With Allen on first, tournament MVP Braden Miller stroked a double down the right field line, scoring Allen and tying the game at 1-1. Miller advanced to third on the throw home. Morris then hit a chopper into left, plating Miller and giving South Laurel a 2-1 lead.
Then it was time for South’s defense to shine in the bottom of the inning.
Taylor Combs led off with a single to left, but was forced at second by Austin Combs. Michael May came in to run for Combs. Vorbeck hit a line drive up the middle that was snagged by second baseman Joe Gaines, who quickly fired the ball back to first to double off May and end the inning.
South then put the game away in the top of the seventh with two more runs.
Gaines walked to lead off the inning and scored on a double to left by Martin. Martin would later score on a fielder’s choice to up South’s lead to 4-1.
Neal then retired the side in the bottom of the inning and the celebration was on.
“It was a very nerve racking game,” Harris said. “Our kids fought so well. I’m so proud of them Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. That’s baseball. They wanted to prove they could do it.”
The Cardinals will now face Scott tonight at 8:30 p.m. at Whitaker Bank Ballpark in Lexington. The Eagles, winner of the 10th Region, come into the game with a 25-14 record. Scott upset Bourbon County in the finals, 8-4.