By Denis House
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
“Our guys are back.”
Those were the words of South Laurel coach Wynn Harris after his No. 23 Cardinals beat No. 15 Hazard Wednesday night, 9-5.
The Cardinals (19-6) had been mired in a semi-funk over their last six games, going 3-3 and at times struggling to find offense. Of course, thanks to the weather, this game was only South’s seventh since April 29. It’s hard for a team to get into any type of rhythm when playing so sporadically.
“This game was kinda what we were playing like before the bad weather hit,” Harris said. “Tonight we played good defense, pitched it well, put the ball in play and ran the bases well. All the things we’ve been accustomed to.” South Laurel turned two double plays in the game, one in the first that ended the inning, the other in the seventh that ended the game.
South Laurel struck early, scoring all nine of its runs in the first three innings. Harris felt like it was important to get on the board early against the Bulldogs.
“The key was us coming out and getting on top early,” Harris said. “Scoring three runs in the first three innings really helped.”
The Cardinals scored four in the first inning to take control early, two of those coming off the bat of Trey Martin, who smacked a two-run homer off starting pitcher Evan Whitaker. Prior to that, Trent Abner walked and scored on a double to left by Joe Gaines. Gaines would come home on a single by Daniel Neal for the 2-0 lead.
After Hazard cut the lead to 4-1 in the top of the second, South Laurel pushed four more runs across the plate in the home half of the inning to make it 8-1, this time off pitcher Austin Johnson.
Johnson walked the first two batters he faced, Zach Allen and Brennan Miller. After Abner struck out, Gaines drew another walk to load the bases. Johnson struck out Alex Sears for the second out, bringing Neal to the plate, who ripped a single to left that scored Allen and Miller. Matthew Slavey, who was also the starting pitcher for South, then helped his own cause with a double to left to score Gaines and Neal.
South faced the third Hazard pitcher in as many innings in the bottom of the third when it scored one run off Blake Lockhart to make it 9-1. Allen singled with one out and scored on a double to right by Abner.
Hazard touched Slavey for two runs in the top of the fourth to cut the lead to 9-3. With one out, T.J. Haynes singled to left, followed by Jacob Roll reaching on an error. Slavey then walked Lockhart to load the bases for Johnson, who flew out to right, which allowed Chase Caldwell, running for Haynes, to score. A single by Whitaker scored Jack Davis, who was running for Roll, to cut the lead to 9-3.
Brennan Miller took over on the mound for the Cardinals in the fifth inning. After striking out the first two batters he faced, he gave up a walk to Cole Ratliff, then a double to right by Haynes. Roll followed with a single that scored both runners to cut the lead to 9-5. Miller fanned Blake Nidiffer to end the inning. Neal took over in the sixth, then Sears came on to shut the door in the seventh.
“All four of our pitchers threw well,” Harris said. “Matthew gave us four good innings, and Brennan came on and did a good job. It was nice to get Neal an inning on the mound.”
The Cards were scheduled to face those same Bulldogs Thursday night, this time in Hazard. South will wrap-up regular season play tonight with a game at Somerset.
“This was a good win for us against a quality team,” Harris said. “We are just trying to get ready for the district tournament and not overlook anyone.”