By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
HARLAN—The North Laurel Jaguars would like to have one play back. After leading Harlan County the entire game, an error in the bottom of the seventh allowed three runs for a 5-4 Black Bears win.
“It’s not the end of the world. It’s early in the season and we played well,” North Laurel coach Darren McWhorter said. “That’s all I want our guys to do. Give yourself a chance to win.”
North Laurel led 4-2 with Harlan County down to its final at bat. Austin Thompson walked leadoff batter Gage Burkhart and then plunked Tyler Boggs in the head.
“Walks kind of led to our demise, but they were putting it in play as well,” McWhorter said.
They were putting the ball in play, just not very hard. An infield single by Blake Rutherford loaded the bases. Thompson fanned James Bond for the first out. Now the Jaguars just needed a double play, which they had turned twice earlier in the game.
“They still had the meat of their order coming up. It was going to be a tough jam to get out of,” McWhorter said.
Scotty Bailey dribbled a roller down the third base line. Thompson fielded the ball cleanly and saw there was no play at home. His throw to first sailed into right field and was not recovered until the winning run crossed the plate.
“He was being aggressive just trying to make a play to get out of a jam. You can’t fault him for that,” McWhorter said.
It was a bitter ending to a game North Laurel had battled to stay on top.
“We did some things really well. Got ourselves out of some jams early,” McWhorter said.
North Laurel scratched out a first-inning run behind the speed of Marcus Carson. Carson led off the game with a sharp single and moved into scoring position with a stolen base. Carson would score on a wild pitch that was blocked by Harlan County catcher Scotty Bailey, but bounced in front of the plate. Carson got to the plate before Bailey.
No. 9 hitter Byron Rice’s hot bat set up the second North Laurel run.
“We’ve got them out there and expect them to produce,” McWhorter said.
Rice doubled to lead off the third inning and moved up on a Carson single. A sacrifice fly by Cole Lewis made it a 2-0 game.
In the fourth inning, Zach Hurley was hit by a pitch. Rice came through again with an RBI single for a 3-0 lead against Harlan County ace Tyler Boggs. Boggs would pitch five innings with the Black Bears other top pitcher, Bond, taking over in the sixth inning.
“That’s their two big dogs right there they threw at us. It’s good to get to see those guys,” McWhorter said.
North Laurel was getting an ace-caliber performance from Logan Mallory. Mallory had allowed three hits, but no runs through four innings. He picked off one runner and another was caught stealing by Maxey.
“I thought Logan threw really well. He threw lights out for five innings,” McWhorter said. “Early in the year it seems like that fifth inning is the inning that gets you.”
Harlan County would finally get to Mallory in the fifth inning. A pair of walks set the table for Blake Rutherford’s RBI single. It could have been worse for North Laurel, but two runners were thrown out on the scoring play. In a bizarre twist, both runners were caught in rundowns and tagged out by centerfielder Carson, one at second base and the other between third and home.
“I’ve seen things today that I have never seen,” McWhorter said. “I have never seen a play where a centerfielder had two putouts, one at second and one at home plate.”
North Laurel would get that run back in the top of the sixth inning. Hurley singled and scored on a hit by Austin Rudder to make it a 4-1 game.
In the sixth inning, Harlan County put together three singles but managed just one run.
“Harlan has a good team. They have everybody back from last year’s team and they are senior heavy,” McWhorter said.
North Laurel was scheduled to travel to Lincoln County Monday night, but that game was cancelled due to the weather. The Jags were scheduled to be at Whitley County last night, then Corbin on Thursday.