By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
HARLAN - The North Laurel 10-11 All Stars punched their ticket to the state tournament with a 6-1 win over Corbin Sunday. It was the same score and same result as the previous day with North Laurel working their way out of the loser’s bracket to claim the district title.
The way North Laurel recorded the 6-1 win was also very similar to the previous game with Corbin. Strong pitching held the Corbin bats in check while Colby Howard powered the offense with another home run.
North Laurel will begin play in the state tournament Saturday at Prestonsburg.
“It’s the first time for me. It’s the first time for these boys. Hopefully, we can put on a good showing,” North Laurel Coach Jason Vanhook said.
Being in unfamiliar territory may have kept North Laurel from a faster start. They managed just one hit in their first two innings against Corbin starter Zach Hash.
“I think the nerves got to them just a little bit,” Vanhook said. “And Corbin had great pitching on the mound, something we didn’t expect with us playing yesterday, but they did. They are a heck of a team.”
North Laurel was getting a solid pitching performance of their own with Blaine Miller keeping Corbin in check as well. In the top of the third, the North Laurel defense probably saved at least one run. After a leadoff walk to Cade Cooney, Garner Chandler slapped a ball that appeared headed for left field. Noah Rogers made a diving stop and tried to throw out the runner while laying on his back. Although the runner was safe at second, Roger’s play kept the runner from going to third. That would be big when Ben Phillips lined out on a good play by Bryson Brock. Had the runner been at third, he would have tagged and scored.
“They have been solid through the whole tournament,” Vanhook said of his defense.
With the momentum from a strong inning in the field and a pep talk from their coach, North Laurel erupted in the bottom of the third.
“In the third inning, I think when we talked to the team they knew what today was. It was go to the state or go home,” Vanhook said.
Rogers and Blake Vanhook both singled to open the inning. Howard jumped on the first pitch for a towering home run to centerfield. An unofficial count, it was the 20th home run of the season for the North Laurel slugger.
They weren’t done yet. Seth McClure singled and Cole Kelley reached on an error. After a fielder’s choice by Tanner Bowling, Miller singled to score McClure. Bryson Brock singled to load the bases. It was the sixth hit of the inning. Ty Baker flied out to left field with Bowling tagging up on the play for a 5-0 lead.
When Miller hit the second batter of the fourth inning, North Laurel didn’t take any chances.
“Blaine Miller pitched a heck of performance the other day against Knox County when we beat them the second time. Sometimes pitchers are on and sometimes they are not,” Vanhook said. “We took him about as far as we could. He started struggling a little bit.”
Rogers took over with Cole Shelton greeting him with a single. Again the defense rose to the occasion. Dylan Massengill lined out hard to Bowling at first. Bowling beat Shelton back to first for a double play to end the inning.
North Laurel tacked on one more run in the fourth. Howard walked and scored on a double by McClure.
Rogers would continue to hold Corbin in check other than Phillips’ home run to lead off the sixth inning.