By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
CORBIN—With North Laurel runners on second and third, Corbin’s 4-2 lead looked shaky. It became more unsettled when Redhounds coach Rob Ledington intentionally walked Marcus Carson. Carson represented the go-ahead run and it brought to the plate arguably the region’s most feared hitter.
“I really liked it,” Zach Storm said, unable to remember anyone ever walking a hitter to get to him.
Ledington said he gave a lot of thought to the options and knew it might go against the grain to put the potential winning run on base.
“We just figured we would try to walk him and set up a double play ball. The only thing that could hurt us there was a gapper and the Storm kid hit a gapper,” Ledington said.
Storm’s triple to right centerfield cleared the bases and propelled the Jaguars to a 7-4 win. The seven runs came on just three hits.
“When they walked Marcus Carson I was tickled to death,” North Laurel coach Darren McWhorter said. “(Storm) really stepped up and had a good swing.”
It wasn’t really the Storm triple that cost the Redhounds most. They had chances to secure the win earlier.
There was no reason to think Trace Vorbeck would do anything other than close out North Laurel in the seventh inning. The Corbin ace had allowed only a pair of hits in the first six innings.
“He pitched fantastic. There is no doubt about it,” Ledington said.
The Redhounds’ trouble in the seventh inning did not start from Vorbeck. First Zach Hurley reached when the Corbin shortstop bobbled a grounder. Then Taylor Bowling hit into a potential double play with the second baseman’s throw sailing into left field.
“We had a routine double play ball there. The ballgame is over,” Ledington said. “That put us in a bad spot.”
The Jaguars batted around in the seventh inning and needed just one hit to do so. After the two errors, Austin Thompson ripped a line drive that just happened to be right at the centerfielder for the first out. Then Carson was walked to set up Storm’s game-winner. Storm would score on a wild pitch. The next four batters walked to force home Ethan Eversole with the final run.
The Jaguars were glad to get another look at the Corbin ace, a pitcher they could potentially face in the region tournament. It was Vorbeck’s turn in the rotation, but that was almost secondary. While some coaches might not want an opponent to get swings against their top pitcher before the tournament, Ledington sees it the other way around.
“Why not let him go out there and figure out their weak spots? And I think he did that,” Ledington said. “There are no secrets about Trace. Everybody knows he’s a power pitcher. He’s got a good fastball, good slider. It’s not like we’re hiding anything.”
McWhorter said he wants his hitters to see Vorbeck as much as possible in the regular season.
“You‘ve got to figure out how to beat that guy,” McWhorter said. “We’ve done it twice. I don’t want to see him again.”
While the Redhounds threw their best, the Jaguars started a freshman and then used their bullpen for one of the few times this season. Zach Hurley made his first varsity start on the mound for North Laurel.
“He came out and threw pretty good,” McWhorter said.
He did walk the first batter he faced, Brady Foley. That set up an RBI single for Vorbeck. Hurley walked the leadoff batter three of the four innings he pitched. It would burn him again in the fourth when a walk to Zach Duncum led to an RBI single for Keaton Burton.
North Laurel finally got to Vorbeck in the fifth inning. Hurley reached on an error and Bowling walked. A groundout by Carson forced home the first run. Storm legged out an infield single to score the second run.
The Redhounds regained the lead in the bottom of the sixth. After the leadoff walks, Derek Terry poked a single. With the infield drawn in, the ball just exceeded the reach of Evans at second. A groundout by Burton drove in the Redhounds’ final run.
Ryan Shears had closed out the fourth inning and pitched a perfect fifth. After walking the first two batters in the sixth inning, he told McWhorter he just didn’t have it. Carson closed strong including fanning the side in the seventh inning.
“We did enough offensively to put us in a good spot,” Ledington said.
That good spot would be undone by two errors, five walks, and a triple in the seventh inning.
“That’s why baseball is the greatest game out there because you never know what is going to happen,” McWhorter said.
Ledington said it was an important game for his team, because they are trying to improve from a slow start this season. They want to show they can compete with the best the region offers.
“In my opinion, North Laurel is the best team in our region. We had them beat,” Ledington said. “I’m telling you this. We will be a tough out in post season play.”