LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
HARLAN—North Laurel couldn’t manufacture much against Middlesboro starter Lucas Crawford, but it was more than the Yellowjackets could produce against Weston Griebel.
“It was a good game. Two good pitched games. I thought we hit some really hard balls we just got under them. They kept running balls down and making plays,” North Laurel coach Darren McWhorter said.
North Laurel managed just three hits against Crawford and was forced to execute baseball fundamentals to get the two runs they did score.
“We got the runs we needed when we needed them. It takes a sacrifice squeeze and a sacrifice fly to get our two runs,” McWhorter said.
It also took an error to advance both North Laurel runners that scored. Griebel allowed just two hits and the Jaguars played flawless defense. Griebel struck out five and walked two batters. One walk and one hit came in the first inning before the North Laurel freshman found his rhythm.
“You take away those first two batters where he was missing up in the zone, he was lights out. That’s as good a game as he has pitched,” McWhorter said.
Middlesboro left two runners stranded when Griebel fanned Brandon Hale to end the first inning. It began a string of 10 straight batters retired by Griebel. The only other hit he allowed was a sinking line drive that centerfielder Zach Hurley nearly snagged with a diving catch in the fifth inning. That runner was quickly erased with a double play.
Tyler Yoakum reached first for Middlesboro on a walk to lead off the seventh inning after a long, battling at bat. He did move to third on a wild pitch that crossed up catcher Ethan Maxey. Maxey called a fastball and got a curveball. Yoakum would be stranded there as Griebel was still throwing hard as he retired the last three batters.
McWhorter said the only way Griebel would come out of the game would be if the Jaguars built a big lead early. Instead they were locked into a game that required several chess moves just to score.
“It was his baby and he knew it,” McWhorter said.
North Laurel’s first run came in the second inning and began with Cole Lewis beating out an infield hit on a ball to the backhand side of the second baseman. With Lewis a serious running threat, Crawford gave him a lot of attention. An errant pickoff throw ended up in right field. Lewis bolted to second and didn’t slow down until he reached third.
With one out, eighth grader Jack Capobianco stepped to the plate in a key moment to keep the season alive. The North Laurel shortstop wasn’t in the lineup when the season started. It was his perfect squeeze bunt that allowed Lewis to race home for a 1-0 lead.
“We try to stress the bunts. We bunt a lot. Come tournament time it’s going to be a bunt by somebody, somewhere that’s going to win a game,” McWhorter said.
No North Laurel runner would reach base again until Capobianco singled in the fifth inning. He would be thrown out on a steal attempt.
Griebel led off the sixth inning with a single that skipped past the right fielder. Griebel ended up at second with Dylan Messer called on to pinch run. A Zach Hurley bunt moved Messer to third base with one out. Austin Thompson could bring him home with another squeeze bunt or a sacrifice fly.
“It’s dangerous. If they guess right and think squeeze and throw the ball out of the box or accidently throw it in the dirt where he can’t squeeze it he’s left out to dry,” McWhorter said.
Instead Thompson swung away and lifted a fly ball to left field with Messer tagging for a 2-0 lead.
“Austin is a really good bunter. He’s been hitting the ball real well. If he had swung and missed or got a strike on him I was squeezing the next play,” McWhorter said.
The Jaguars advance to the tournament semifinals where they will face South Laurel.
“Defensively I thought we played really good and that’s what it’s going to take. Good pitching and defense and score a run here and there,” McWhorter said.