By Denis House
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
MANCHESTER—Two bad hops.
That was the difference in North Laurel’s 3-2 loss to Clay County Friday night in the battle for the top seed in the 49th District.
The first came in the bottom of the third, which resulted in Clay County tying the game. The second came in the bottom of the fifth that scored the eventual game winner for the Tigers.
“That’s the game,” North Laurel coach Darren McWhorter said. “When you get in a big game like this a hop here or there can be the difference.”
The Jaguars held a 2-0 lead going into the bottom of the third as starting pitcher Marcus Carson was not only holding the Tigers scoreless, but he also accounted for both North Laurel runs. He singled to led off the game and scored on a balk by pitcher Tanner Hoskins, then led off the top of the third with a solo home run to right.
After retiring the first two batters he faced in the bottom of the third, Carson ran into a little control problem as he walked Dylan Garrison and hit Tanner Smith.
With two on and two out, Tyler Allen singled to right that scored Garrison to cut the lead to 2-1. The next batter, Austin Carnahan, hit a grounder to short that popped up right as Cole Lewis was fielding it, causing him to bobble the ball, which allowed Carnahan to be safe at first and Smith to score the tying run.
It stayed 2-2 until the bottom of the fifth where the Jaguars were victims of another bad hop.
With one out, Allen lined a single past first and into right field, where Austin Thompson was in perfect position to field the ball until it popped up and over him, rolling to the fence and allowing Allen to make it to third. Will Sexton came in as a courtesy runner and scored on a single by Nathaniel Huff for the 3-2 lead.
“There was nothing either one of our guys could do on those bad hops,” McWhorter said.
Hoskins picked up the win, going seven innings, allowing two runs on five hits while striking out seven and walking three.
“Their kid threw a good game,” McWhorter said. “I thought our pitchers threw well, also.” Carson took the loss. In five innings of work, he allowed three runs on four hits. He struck out seven, walked three and hit one. Zach Hurley came in to pitch the sixth and allowed one hit.
North Laurel had several opportunities to score in the game, leaving eight runners stranded, including two in the third and the seventh.
“We had our chances and let it slip away,” McWhorter said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win, and that’s what you want. We just never had that one person step up and get a hit when we needed one.”
After Carson homered to give North a 2-0 lead in the third, the Jaguars were looking to add to their lead as with one out, Thompson walked and Hurley singled. But both runners were left stranded when Hoskins retired the next two North batters.
In the bottom of the sixth, Trevor Sams doubled with one out for the Tigers. He advanced to third on a wild pitch, then when Hurley uncorked another wild pitch, he tried to score, but catcher Ethan Maxey got the ball back to Hurley, who tagged out Sams to keep the Clay lead at one.
Now North was down to its last at bat in the top of the seventh. Carson led off by reaching on a error. After Maxey flied out to right, Thompson grounded to third, where Allen fielded the ball, but his throw to first pulled Tanner Smith off the bag.
With two on and only one out, Hoskins got Hurley to foul out to first, then Logan Mallory to fly out to center to end the game.
“We wanted to win this game,” McWhorter said. “The winner of this game was guaranteed a place in the region tournament. Clay has a good squad and are real similar to us. They had a good catcher, as do we, and that shut down both running games. In the end they made the plays and we happened to be on the short end.”
The Jaguars were scheduled to travel to Lexington on Saturday to play Bryant Station and South Oldham at Bryan Station. North will return home tonight to host Knox Central.