By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
After falling behind early, the bottom of the North Laurel lineup turned things around for a 12-5 win over South Laurel.
“The bottom of our lineup kind of carried us. They stepped up and were driving in runs,” North Laurel coach Darren McWhorter said.
The Jaguars No. 8 and No. 9 hitters combined for five hits, four runs, and five RBI. It was Gabe Blair’s two-run single that gave North Laurel its first lead and Zach Hurley adding to that lead with a two-run double.
The game remained tight until the sixth inning when the Jaguars broke it open with six runs and six hits, including singles from Blair and Hurley.
“We haven’t played a game yet where we just laid an egg. We’ve had some bad innings. The big inning this year has killed us,” South Laurel coach Wynn Harris said.
Neither coach thought the seven-run final margin told the story of this game.
“South’s got a good team,” McWhorter said. “Don’t let that score deceive anybody around here. They are a solid, solid team.”
Harris thought his team showed they could play with what he said was the best team in the region.
“We had one inning where we let it get away from us a little bit,” Harris said.
It was the Cardinals’ game early with a quick 3-0 lead after two inning. South Laurel struck in the first inning when Joe Gaines reached on an error and scored on a single by Daniel Neal. They would add two more runs with two outs in the second inning. Austin Thompson’s diving attempt on a Gaines’ liner came up short with two runs scoring on the triple.
A 3-0 deficit isn’t much for a North Laurel team averaging 11 runs per game.
“I’m thinking eventually we are going to get some runs,” McWhorter said.
The first runs came in the bottom of the third inning. Blair led off with a single, but it looked like he may be stranded. Charlie Davis retired the next two batters, including a sparkling diving play by Gaines. With first base open, the Cardinals decided to pitch to Zach Storm and he would make them pay. Storm ripped a home run to right centerfield for his first home run of the season.
“There is no guarantee he’s going to do that,” McWhorter said. “He’s capable of doing that, but they’ve got some guys capable of doing that too.”
A couple of mistakes would burn South Laurel in the fourth inning. John Evans took first on an error and Thompson followed with a walk. Bubby Brooks tried to move the runners with a bunt, but when no one covered first base he had a hit.
“The bunt play gave them a little momentum and shook us up a little bit,” Harris said.
Blair delivered a two-run single for a 4-3 North Laurel lead.
Hurley then drove a rope to left field that short-hopped the fence and drive in two more runs.
“The bottom of our lineup wore it out,” McWhorter said.
Hurley, a freshmen, did start the season opener because most of the starters were just coming back from basketball. Friday would be his first “real” varsity start.
“I knew he was capable of it. He’s a good athlete,” McWhorter said.
The Cardinals responded right away. An error allowed Gaines to reach first. Alex Sears made it a 6-5 game by driving a 3-1 pitch out of the park.
“We missed on a pitch to him and he drove it out of here. They’ve got some guys capable of doing that,” McWhorter said.
Taylor Bowling would keep the Cardinals scoreless over the final two inning for a complete game win. Bowling struck out eight and walked only one batter.
“Taylor Bowling came out again and threw an excellent game,” McWhorter said.
The plan was for Bowling to split time on the mound with Marcus Carson.
“He just kept coming over and begging me coach please one more,” McWhorter said. “He deserves to go out there and get the win. It’s his senior year and I’m tickled to death for him.”
Any thought of Bowling not completing the game ended when North Laurel erupted for six runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. The inning started with Brooks slapping a single on an 0-2 pitch. Then when he appeared to get picked off first, a balk moved him to second. The Cardinals did not agree with the call.
“The balk call started that inning, but if we make pitches and make plays we get out of that ,” Harris said.
Blair and Hurley each stroked singles. Storm was intentionally walked to load the bases. Ethan Eversole fell into a two-strike hole before driving in two runs with a single. Two more runs scored on a Ryan Shears single. John Evans made it three straight singles and also drove in a run. A sacrifice fly by Thompson rounded out the scoring.
The Jaguars are off to a 6-0 start and will try and match a 7-0 start in 2001. They will have to earn the seventh win against a highly-ranked Bryan Station team.
“We’re getting off to a good start and that’s encouraging, but you can’t get full of yourself, get complacent and think we’re just going to show up out here and get a win,” McWhorter said.
South Laurel (7-3) fell by just one run in its other two losses.