Special to The Sentinel-Echo
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
BUCKNER—One more win.
That’s all that stands between the North Laurel Senior League All-Stars and a Kentucky state championship after Coach Bill Abner’s team roared through winner’s bracket games over the weekend in LaGrange.
“A state championship in any sport at any level is a great accomplishment, and we have put ourselves in a good spot,” Abner said. “But we can’t get too satisfied, because we still have plenty of work to do.”
They did a lot of good work over the weekend at Oldham Co. High School, besting defending state champ South Oldham 12-9, then following that with an 8-2 trouncing of Richmond in the winner’s bracket final.
North Laurel 12, South Oldham 9
It wasn’t a pretty win for the London team, but they generated enough offense to hold off every South Oldham comeback effort. After falling behind 2-0 in the first, North tied it on a two-run triple by Dylan Messer. They took a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the third when Austin Rudder delivered the biggest blow of the night, a bases loaded triple to the wall in center.
North was in control from there, although it could never completely put the scrappy South Oldham team away. Hays went four innings, giving up only one hit, with Jake McWhorter, Braxston Hicks and Messer finishing on the mound. “We only allowed four hits total, but we had too many walks and errors,” Abner pointed out. “Sort of an ugly win, but it is always good to get that first one in a double elimination format.”
North Laurel 8, Richmond 2
This win was much prettier, as North pulled away in the middle innings. They took an early 2-0 lead when Rudder led off with a double, Trey Feltner walked, and Messer pushed them both across with a monster shot off the wall in center, 360-feet away.
It stayed that way until the top of the fourth, when Richmond managed to bang out a couple of singles against Messer to cut it to 2-1. But North answered right back. Singles from Hicks, Tori Bowling and Ryan Abner loaded the bases. Rudder’s sharp single to center drove home one, then with two outs, Richmond let Messer’s towering infield pop fall to the ground, allowing two runs to cross the plate.
North got insurance in the fifth. Ray Hays led off with a single, McWhorter was hit by a pitch and Hicks walked. Braden Houston drove in a run with another walk, and a Bowling single and Rudder groundout made it 8-1.
With that much cushion, Abner was able to get Messer off the mound, keeping him eligible should North not close it out in its next game. “He’s thrown great up here for two days,” Abner said. “If we hadn’t got those three in the fifth I would have pitched him out. But now we are in excellent shape pitching-wise.”
Tori Bowling finished, and although he did give up a solo home run, he also had Richmond swinging at ghosts with his sharp-breaking curve ball. “I’m telling you, he has got the nastiest curve ball you’ll ever see at this age level,” Abner said. “He can’t really throw his fastball by you yet, but he can make a good hitter look like a rookie with that hook.”
“This was a much cleaner game by us overall,” he added. “We cut down on the errors and only gave up two walks. They were a really solid team, but we made them earn what little they got.”
Now North awaits the winner of the Richmond-Beaver Creek (Prestonsburg) game with a state title clearly in their sights. “I may be wrong, but I think we have only had two Senior League state champs from London,” Abner pointed out. “We had a champ in 1986, and I think one in the late 70’s.”
His pitching is set up, as Hays was eligible to go in the championship game, set for last night (Tuesday), barring rainouts. If the loser’s bracket representative forced another game, Messer would be clear to throw again in that one.
“I feel like we are the best team up here, and we would love to bring a state title home,” Abner said. “Our guys are really excited about the spot they’ve put themselves in. Now, we’ve just got to take care of business between the lines.”