By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
PRESTONSBURG—It’s hard to convince 11-year-olds that everything happens for a reason. That became the task for North Laurel 11-year-old All Stars coach Jason Vanhook after his team fell to Campbellsville 7-5 in Friday’s championship game.
“I told them when we all circled up here; sometimes it’s just not your day. God does stuff for a reason. We might not know what it is in this lifetime, but today happened for a purpose,” Vanhook said.
Then there are questions he also must answer, like why an umpire would call out a runner for leaving early on a controversial appeal. It could have been a one-run game in the fifth inning, but after a mild protest North Laurel had to accept the call.
“We practice it and practice it and practice it. The kids don’t watch the ball. All they go off of is the third base coach. When he says go, they go,” Vanhook said.
And even with that it appeared North Laurel still had magic. When Seth McClure squared up a pitch with two outs in the sixth inning it had the look of a walk-off three-run homer. When the ball was caught, the Campbellsville dugout exploded and McClure dropped like he had been shot.
“When it first left the bat, I thought it was gone,” Vanhook said. “The kid made a heck of a catch in left field.”
Although the end would be bitter, the game could not have started much better for North Laurel. A perfect throw from the outfield to second base by Ty Baker in the top of the first erased a base runner and gave North Laurel a quick boost. In the bottom of the inning, Blake Vanhook singled and scored on a single by McClure. Both hitters jumped on the first pitch.
Two more runs scored in the second. Cole Kelley doubled with one out and Bryson Brock followed with a single. Kelley scored on a groundout by Baker. An error allowed Brock to trot home.
The first sign of trouble for North Laurel came in the third when Blaine Miller gave up the first three Campbellsville hits. Two runs scored on a double by Hunter Maupin to make it a 3-2 game.
“We came out rolling and thought we had the momentum. I think probably about the third inning when they scored two on a long shot to left center, you kind of start to see the momentum change,” Vanhook said.
In the fourth inning, Miller got relief help from Baker and Kelley. The trio combined for three walks and a hit batter. That set the table for three hits to lead to five runs as Campbellsville jumped ahead 7-3.
“We had a little trouble locating on a few pitches, but you have to give them credit. We played a heck of a ball game and they just hit it. They hit it and we hit it and it was just one of those games,” Vanhook said.
North Laurel clawed back in the fifth inning. Howard and McClure singled. Miller reached on an error that allowed Howard to score. One out later, Kelley would reach on a fielder’s choice with McClure scoring on a throwing error. Next came the fly ball that led to the crucial appeal at third.
The sixth inning opened with Baker drawing a walk. The next two batters were retired, but Campbellsville starter Dawson Cole reached his pitch limit. Reliever Maupin was greeted with a hard grounder to short by Howard that was misplayed. McClure’s deep drive appeared likely to at least tie the game if not win it. Left fielder John Orberson tracked it quickly and made a running catch for the final out.
“If nothing else, this will make us stronger,” Vanhook said.