By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Harlan County did all it could to stay with North Laurel, but a five-run fifth inning helped the Lady Jaguars advance with an 11-2 win in the first round of the 13th Region Tournament at North Laurel.
“I thought we played good. We’ve got tomorrow now,” North Laurel coach Becky Osborne said. Tomorrow for North Laurel was a scheduled semifinal meeting with South Laurel Tuesday night.
Osborne didn’t think her team had the meeting with South Laurel on their mind Monday. The reason Harlan County only trailed 4-2 after three innings may have been that the Lady Black Bears just played well.
“It’s hard not to look ahead, especially when it’s South Laurel. I think they concentrated on Harlan because we had to get through Harlan to get to South,” Osborne said.
North Laurel breezed through the first inning with a 3-0 lead. After Harlan County went down in order, the Lady Jaguars came out swinging.
“Hopefully we’ll come out and hit the ball like we did tonight against South,” Osborne said.
Sidney Herrell led off with a shot that was misplayed at third. She stole second and moved to third on a groundout. Another groundout by Kailin Yantz scored Herrell. North laurel would start another rally with two outs. Vanessa Smith walked and Blake Johnson singled. Both runners would score on a single by Megan Baldwin.
North Laurel tacked on another run in the second inning. Farris Strong reached on the second Harlan County error. Again the error cost the Lady Black Bears. Herrell singled to get Strong into scoring position. After a long at bat, McKenzie Mills drove in Strong with a fly ball to right field.
Harlan County rallied with a pair of runs in the third inning. Cheyanne Harris blooped a singled with one out. Smith almost made a spectacular catch in centerfield, but the ball popped out as she hit the ground. Then Jesse Johnson walked to bring up the top of the order. Kaitlynn Stittums reached on an error to allow the first run to score. Katie Johnson followed with an infield single off the glove of Baldwin.
“It’s important that we make the simple plays. We have to make the routine plays, especially (against South Laurel). There is no room for error,” Osborne said.
Harlan County gained some momentum with the runs and was also in a stretch of retiring eight of nine North Laurel batters. The one batter that reached in that stretch, Emily Sears on an error in the fourth, would score on a fly ball by Strong.
“I was impressed with Harlan. I thought they played well. You could tell they weren’t used to the speed of the pitching,” Osborne said.
Baldwin retired 11 of the last 12 batters she faced. She allowed just three hits in six innings before being relieved by Mikayla Vires.
“Megan pitched great. She hit her spots. She kept it in on their hands. She pitched a great game,” Osborne said.
The Lady Jaguars regained control in the fifth inning. Strong stroked a two-run single. Vires, Sears, and Smith also had RBI singles in the five-run inning.
“We needed the cushion,” Osborne said.
Yantz led off the sixth inning with a triple and scored on a wild pitch.