LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
North Laurel seemed to be on a roll as it swept it’s way through the winner’s bracket of the district tournament. The roll ended Sunday with a 15-5 loss to Clay County in the second championship game.
“We just ran into really nice Clay County team. They outpitched us, out hit us. They did what you do to win games. They scored every inning. They were able to generate runs on us every inning. A lot of them earned some of them unearned. Hats off to them, they did a great job,” North Laurel coach Kevin Houston said.
North Laurel had played error free through the tournament until making five errors in its 6-0 loss to Clay County Saturday in the first championship game. They would commit three more in the first three innings Sunday.
“The team that makes the least amount of mistakes usually wins and they did that both games,” Houston said. “For whatever reason the (error) bug set in on us.”
The errors helped Clay County jump out to a lead in the first inning. They would keep scoring every inning. Although North Laurel’s bats were more effective than the previous game against ace Brianda Owens, they struggled to get good contact on a much softer throwing Kim Mills.
“It worked out the way I was hoping. I knew all week they were going to key on hitting Brianda, our fast pitching,” Clay County coach Scotty Smith said. “I had faith in Kimberland throwing strikes. I knew she could throw strikes. We were hoping they would be out in front.”
North Laurel managed just one hit in the first three innings against Mills. By the time the second hit came, North Laurel was already behind 8-0.
“They had a good strategy. Our girls didn’t hit either pitcher, yesterday or today,” Houston said. “We adjusted late in the game and generated some runs, but they did what good teams do and scored every inning.”
Clay County scored two unearned runs in the first inning with throwing errors leading to both scores. Clay County would earn two runs in the second inning. After a leadoff walk to Bethany Buttrey, Shelby Phillips delivered an RBI double. A single by Mills made it a 4-0 game.
“I had faith in the girls. I was just hoping our bats would pick up and tonight they did. The last two nights as a matter of fact they hit the ball well,” Smith said.
Owens led off the third inning with a single and scored to make it 5-0. Three runs in the fourth inning included an RBI single by Owens and a double for Lauren Smith.
North Laurel finally got to Mills for a run in the fourth inning. Brianna Houston beat out an infield single and Becca Riley followed with a double. Houston scored on a groundout by Jade Williams.
Clay County got that run back and more in the fifth to make it a 10-1 game. North Laurel made their best rally in the bottom of the fifth.
It didn’t look like a big inning when Summer Parker made a spectacular catch in left field on Morgan Vaughn’s line drive. Kayle Scalf walked, but was erased on a fielder’s choice for the second out. Vires singled and Houston reached on a fielder’s choice when the infield tried and failed to throw out the speedy Taylor Combs at third. Three runs scored when Becca Riley blasted a triple. Jervis followed with a double to make it a 10-5 game.
Again Clay County responded with a five-run sixth inning. Mills drove in two runs with a single as Clay County put together five hits in the inning, the same number North Laurel had for the game.
It was a tough ending for a North Laurel team that made it further than some expected.
“I felt like we would get overlooked little bit coming in to be honest. There are a few key girls in the county that we didn’t have with us. I thought some folks would overlook us, but I thought we could get here. When I saw the girls play that first game and how they gelled together as a team, I thought we had a chance,” Houston said.
Ace, errors equal first loss for North
The North Laurel All Stars played an uncharacteristic game in Saturday’s 6-0 loss in the district championship. A team that had played error-free through the tournament made a few miscues. That led to an early deficit, which was too much to make up against Clay County ace Brianda Owens.
The good news for North Laurel was the loss was their first, meaning Clay County would have to beat them a second time to advance to the state tournament.
Trouble started early for the North Laurel stars when an error and two straight walks loaded the bases with Clay County runners in the bottom of the first inning. North Laurel had also missed two foul pop ups that could have been outs. North Laurel escaped with Jazz Jervis fanning two straight batters to get out of the inning unharmed.
They wouldn’t be as fortunate in the second inning. Clay County still did not manage a hit off of Jervis, but a pair of errors allowed an unearned run to score and take a 1-0 lead.
Clay County started the third inning hot from the first pitch, which Owens drove for a triple. She scored on a deep fly ball by Lauren Smith. Carey Hoskins dropped an infield single just over the pitcher. Hoskins would score on a single by Shelby Davis just past the dive of second baseman Hannah Vires.
Three runs would be plenty with the way Owens was pitching for Clay County. She did allow a double to Brianna Houston with one out in the fourth inning. It was the only hit she allowed. Owens finished the night with 13 strikeouts, including the last five batters she faced.
Clay County added three runs to their lead in the bottom of the fourth inning. Alley Hicks singled home two runs and Hoskins singled for the final run.