By Denis House
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
BARBOURVILLE—After South Laurel touched Harlan County pitcher Tyler Boggs for a run and two hits in the top of the first inning in Tuesday night’s 13th Region semifinal game, things were looking good for the Cardinals.
Then it all started to fall apart.
South Laurel (25-7) wouldn’t get another hit off Boggs until the top of the seventh inning and only had three baserunners from the second through the sixth in a 3-1 loss to the Black Bears.
“We couldn’t get anything going offensively,” South Laurel coach Wynn Harris said. “Our pitching and defense played pretty decent, but we couldn’t get anything after that first inning.” After scoring 15 runs on 17 hits in the win over Pineville, the Cards offense disappeared when facing Boggs, who threw much harder than the Pineville pitcher. Harris doesn’t think that made a difference in this game.
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose,” Harris said. “I don’t think the Pineville game hurt us. We’ve faced that situation during the regular season. That’s the game of baseball.”
Boggs pitched a complete game, allowing just one run on three hits while striking out 11 and walking two. He struck out the side in the fourth inning.
“He threw a heck of a game,” Harris said. “He’s a senior and he stepped up, which is what you want your senior to do.”
South Laurel’s pitching, which had been a strong point for most of the season, struggled in trying to keep the Black Bears in check. Matthew Slavey started, but lasted only 2/3 inning, allowing one run on two hits with one walk. He was replaced by Alex Sears in the bottom of the first with two outs. Sears ended up taking the loss. In his 3 2/3 innings of work, he allowed two runs on four hits. He struck out four, but also hit three batters, including one with the bases loaded in the third that forced in what would be the winning run.
“This just happened to be one of those games when we didn’t have enough,” Harris said. “We had some things go array.”
Offensively the Cards battled not only Boggs but a strike zone that seemed to fluctuate from batter to batter. The heart of the South Laurel order, Sears, Daniel Neal and Slavey, went a combined 1-for-9 with five strike outs.
Trent Abner got things going in the top of the first with a single after an eight pitch at bat. He moved to second on a ground out by Joe Gaines, and moved to third on a wild pitch. He scored on a ground out to second by Sears for a 1-0 lead. Neal followed with a single to center but was left stranded when Slavey struck out. South Laurel left five runners on base in the game.
Harlan County (28-9) answered with a run in the bottom of the first to tie the game at 1-1. Boggs helped himself with a lead-off double to left. Nick Cornett came in as a courtesy runner and moved to third on a passed ball. When James Bond reached on an error, Cornett scored and Bond advanced to second.
Scotty Bailey beat out a bunt single to put runners on the corners. He tried to steal second, but was caught in a rundown. As Sears chased him back to first, he threw the ball to Zach Allen, who fired it home to get Bond at the plate. Slavey walked Anthony Jenkins, and that was all for him, as Sears took over on the mound. He got Conner Leisge to ground into an inning ending 4-6-3 double play. The Cards would also turn a double play in the second inning.
But offensively, nothing was going South’s way. Boggs retired the side in order in the third, then struck out the side in the fourth. Meanwhile, Harlan County took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the third.
After Sears retired the first two batters he faced, Bond singled to left, followed by a single to left by Bailey. Anthony Jenkins then sent a little pop fly over the mound that dropped for a single to load the bases.
The first pitch Sears threw to Leisge hit the Black Bears batter to force in Bond for the 2-1 lead. Sears then got Zach Doss to hit into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
Harlan County made it 3-1 in the bottom of the fourth, again with two outs. Sears struck out Jenkins and Andrew Dozier to start the inning, but Blake Rutherford doubled to left and scored when Boggs singled to right. After Sears hit Bond, that was all for him, as Neal took over pitching for South. He struck out Bailey on three pitches.
The Cards had two runners on in the top of the fifth thanks to a walk to Allen and Abner reaching on an error, but Gaines grounded back to Boggs for the third out. South would have only one more batter reach base when Trey Martin lead off the seventh with a single, but Boggs struck out Austin Moore, got Allen to ground out to second, then fanned Brennan Miller for the third out.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” Harris said. “The seniors, all the guys who bought in and had a great season. We played some good baseball this year and it was fun. The well is not dry for us. We’ve got some good younger players coming back. I’m excited about the future of South Laurel baseball.”
The Black Bears advanced to play North Laurel last night for the 13th Region title.