LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
After two innings of play in Thursday night’s game with McCreary Central, the South Laurel Cardinals already held a 7-1 lead.
Then the Cards took their foot off the gas, allowing the Raiders to cut the lead to 7-5 before pulling away for an 11-5 win.
“That’s one of the things we’ve battled all year,” coach Wynn Harris said. “It’s been our Achilles heel, not staying into an entire game. We’re too laid back at times. That’s the personality of our team. That’s not a terrible thing, but not a good thing, either.”
The Cards (8-4) were helped along by six McCreary Central (2-7) errors, including three in South’s five-run first inning. South was also aggressive on the base paths, stealing 10 bases.
Charlie Davis did what coaches want from their starting pitchers. He went deep into the game and when he was relieved in the sixth inning, his team had a 9-5 lead. Davis went five innings, allowing five runs on seven hits. He struck out three, walked one and hit one batter.
“Early this season we’ve thrown a lot of guys but just for a few innings,” Harris said. “The last couple of weeks we’d had our guys throwing more innings. We need our guys to get us into the fifth or sixth innings and throw strikes. We need to keep our pitch count down.”
McCreary Central struck first when Arron Brown and Adam Simpson hit back-to-back doubles to take a 1-0 lead. South would respond with five runs in the bottom of the first off pitcher Andrew Wells, then add two more in the second for the 7-1 lead.
With one out in the first, Joe Gaines, returning to the line-up after missing a couple of games due to being on a school trip, singled to right and stole second. He scored on a single by Alex Sears, tying the game at 1-1. Gaines had a good day at the plate, going 3-for-4 with two singles, a double and two runs scored.
After Daniel Neal grounded out, Chase McWhorter reached on an error, allowing Sears to score. Drew Irvin followed with a single that drove in McWhorter. Stephen Simpson reached on an error, which allowed Irvin to score for a 4-1 lead. Davis then reached on another error, and Austin Moore, running for Simpson, came home to make it 5-1. South stole five runs in the inning.
Two more runs in the second upped the lead to 7-1. Once again, Gaines came to the plate with one out, and this time doubled to right. He scored when Neal singled, then Neal would score when McWhorter reached on an error.
Just when it looked like the Cards were cruising toward what looked like a Mercy Rule game, the Raiders struck for two in the third and two in the fourth, cutting the lead to two, 7-5.
It stayed that way until the bottom of the fifth, when South scored twice to take a 9-5 lead. Irvin led things off by reaching on an error, then scored when Simpson stroked a double to left center. But Simpson was thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple. Davis singled to left, and Brennan Miller came in as a courtesy runner. That was all for Wells, as he was replaced by Bradly Strunk.
After Strunk struck out Zach Allen, Trent Abner doubled to left, bringing home Miller for a 9-5 lead.
Neal took over on the mound for South in the sixth, and threw two scoreless innings.
South added two more runs in the sixth to up the lead to 11-5. Sears led off the inning with a single. After Neal flew out, McWhorter walked, putting runners on first and second for Irvin. Irvin struck out, but South executed a double steal. A single by Simpson scored Sears, and a Trey Martin single brought McWhorter home.
“Sometimes we play too loose, and we’ve got to harness in our focus,” Harris said. “But we did pick it back up in the fifth and sixth innings.”
The Cardinals were at Knox Central Friday night, then off to South Carolina for Spring Break.