LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
MANCHESTER—The path to the 13th Region title goes through Manchester in more ways than one. The Tigers have won two straight region titles and they will host the 49th District Tournament. So for North Laurel to advance in the post season, chances are they will have to beat Clay County. At least they know now they can.
“Getting any win over them is big. It’s a dogfight to get a win against them,” North Laurel coach Darren McWhorter said.
North Laurel rallied with a pair of runs in the seventh inning Wednesday for a 5-4 win over Clay County. The Jaguars had lost five straight games to Clay County, including an 11-10 loss in Manchester in last year’s 13th Region title game.
“We’re lucky to get out of here with a win. Extremely lucky,” McWhorter said.
This might not have been the night you would expect North Laurel to end the streak with Clay County. The Jaguars started short-handed with Ryan Shears and John Evans at Western Kentucky University to register for college. They would get back in time to check into the lineup in the fifth inning.
“I want to throw some kudos out to these guys that were getting some starts when these guys were gone and stepping up and making some plays,” McWhorter said.
The lineup included Blake Reams at first and Taylor Bowling at second. With Marcus Carson pitching, the Jaguars were also without their main cog in the outfield.
North Laurel started strong behind the hot bats of Carson and Zach Storm. Carson led off the game with a single. Storm followed with a long home run that outfielders just turned and watched clear the fence. It was the fourth home run in three games for the North Laurel slugger, who now has 10 for the year.
North Laurel would not get another hit until the same two batters returned to the plate. With one out in the third inning, Carson singled. Carson stole second and scored on a Storm single for a 3-0 lead.
Carson had also been dealing on the mound with only one base runner in the first two innings.
“He’s a competitor. He’s going to compete and he’s going to battle,” McWhorter said.
A steady rain began to fall midway through the third inning. The Clay County offense started to come alive with a little help from the Jaguars. Two walks, an error, and a popup that should have been caught allowed Clay County to push its first run across. They would leave the bases loaded in both the third and fourth innings.
“We got out of some jams there early. You do that often enough and somebody’s going to step up and rope one. They hit the ball and they hit it well,” McWhorter said.
Living dangerously caught up to North Laurel in the fifth inning. Tanner Hensley led off with a double and scored when Tyler Allen reached on an error. Walks to Tanner Smith and Austin Carnahan loaded the bases for the third straight inning. Dustin Gross bounced into a fielder’s choice to score Smith with Carnahan scoring on the Jaguars fourth error of the game for a 4-3 Clay County lead.
North Laurel threatened in the sixth before leaving runners stranded at second and third. In the seventh inning, the Clay County defense finally made a mistake. Cole Lewis lifted a fly ball to left field that was dropped. Carson jumped on the first pitch from Tyler Allen and burned the centerfielder for a double. Lewis scored to tie the game. Storm was walked intentionally for the second time and Gabe Blair was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Zach Hurley lined a hard shot to centerfield, but it was deep enough to score Carson with the go-ahead run.
The plan was to leave Carson in to finish the game. The plan changed when Carson’s thumb started to cramp making it hard to grip the ball. That would force Shears into service on short notice.
Shears allowed a couple of hits in the seventh but also struck out a couple to earn a save.
“For him to come in and throw strikes like that, that was big. That’s encouraging,” McWhorter said.
North Laurel 12, Jackson County 5
North Laurel got a win over its other district opponent Tuesday, but the Generals made it interesting. The Jaguars led 2-0 after three innings. Zach Storm belted a two-run homer in the fourth inning to widen the lead.
Jackson County would get those runs back in the bottom of the inning to make it a 4-2 game.
In the fifth inning, Jackson County chose to pitch to Storm again with first base open. Storm cranked his second two-run homer of the game to spark a five-run inning.
Storm also added a double to make it a 3-for-3 night. North Laurel also got three hits each from Evans and Carson.