By Denis House
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Runs were at a premium Monday night, as the South Laurel Cardinals nipped visiting Knox Central, 1-0, thanks to a walk-off sacrifice fly off the bat of Joe Gaines in the bottom of the seventh.
“A well played game by both teams,” South Laurel coach Wynn Harris said. “Though I would have liked to have seen us hit better.” The Cardinals (19-6) had five hits, while the Panthers (15-17).
The Cards were coming off a 7-4 loss at Mercer County on Saturday, a game that saw Alex Sears homer and Daniel Neal double. South was coming into the game against the Panthers 2-3 over its last five games.
It was Senior Night for South Laurel, as Alex Sears, Matthew Slavey, Trent Abner, Austin Moore and Quinton Barnett were honored before the game. Barnett took to the mound for the Cardinals, turning in an outstanding performance, allowing just one hit while walking four and striking out four. Slavey came in to pitch the seventh and got the win.
“Quinton gave us a quality start,” Harris said. “He and Slavey both stepped up for us.”
Harris was also quick to praise the effort of losing pitcher Drew Mills. In seven innings, Mills gave up one run on five hits. He struck out three and walked two.
“That was an outstanding pitching performance by him,” Harris said. “We didn’t beat ourselves, and neither did them.”
For six-and-one-half innings the two teams were locked in a scoreless tie until the bottom of the seventh. Zach Allen got things started with a single to left, and Tucker Martin came in as a courtesy runner. With one out, Trey Martin singled to left. Trent Abner, who already had a walk, single and double, then grounded to second, where the ball was flipped to short in an attempt to get Trey Martin, but he beat the throw and the bases were loaded for Gaines. The South second baseman sent a fly ball to left, and Tucker Martin raced home for the winning run.
Both teams had chances to score in the game, as the Panthers left six runners on base, while South stranded eight, including the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth. The Cards had the bases full with only one out, but Mills got Slavey and Moore to fly out to end the threat.
Zach Earls doubled for Knox Central in the fifth inning, but Evan Lay grounded out short to first, then Trevor Sanborn line out to Gaines at second to end the inning. The double by Earls as the only hit Barnett allowed.
The Cards played some nice defense, too, especially in the top of the sixth, when Nelson Jacob led off with a fly ball that looked destined to drop between center and right, but Brennan Miller, racing from his right field position, made a nice diving catch to rob Jacob of extra bases.
“With only one run between us, this was two good defensive and pitching efforts,” Harris said. “Any time you win a low scoring game it’s good. It’s easy to win when you put up a big inning.”
Harris also felt like this game was a good test to get his team ready for next week’s 50th District Tournament at Corbin, where South will meet Williamsburg on May 20 at 5:30 p.m.
“It’s a game like this one that prepares you for the post season,” Harris said. “In the post season you need to learn to find ways to win, and we did that tonight.”
The Cards are scheduled to host Hazard tonight, and then travel to take on the Bulldogs on Thursday.