By Denis House
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
CORBIN—On the wall of South Laurel’s locker room are pictures of former Cardinal baseball teams. Memories of glories past that have served as a motivation for this year’s crop of Cardinals.
“The players will ask me and the other coaches about those teams,” South Laurel coach Wynn Harris said. “They want to know if they are as good as those teams were.”
Maybe that’s why when South Laurel won the 50th District title over Corbin Wednesday night, there wasn’t a whole lot of celebrating going on for the Cardinals, because they know this is just one step in their ultimate goal.
“We’ve had a good season,” Harris said after his team’s 3-1 triumph. “Our goal is to take this as far as we can. I’ve encouraged them, and they have encourage me not to be satisfied.”
Wednesday night’s game, originally scheduled for Tuesday, was pushed back due to the strong storms that hit the area. While storms danced around the area while the championship game was going on, the rains didn’t hit until the bottom of the seventh, when Alex Sears came on to shut down the Redhounds.
Trey Martin got the start for South Laurel (24-6), and turned in a fine performance, going 4 2/3 innings, allowing one run on four hits while striking out five to get the win. Daniel Neal threw a scoreless, hitless 1 1/3 innings, then Sears came in to wrap things up.
Corbin (19-18) countered with Chad Brown. In his 3 2/3 innings of work, he allowed three runs on five hits while walking three and striking out four. Taylor Combs pitched the final 2 1/3 innings, where he struck out three, walked one and gave up two hits.
“It was a good all-around game on both sides,” Harris said. “We both had our opportunities to score.”
The Cards were first to score when an error allowed Trent Abner to come home in the bottom of the first for a 1-0 lead. But South could have had more, leaving the bases loaded.
Abner led off the inning by drawing a walk, then advanced to third when Joe Gaines beat out an infield single. After Sears struck out, Corbin elected to intentionally walk Daniel Neal to load the bases for Matthew Slavey.
Slavey grounded to second, but the flip to short in an attempt to get the runner was dropped, which allowed Abner to score. Brown then retired Martin and Austin Moore to get out of the jam.
South made it 2-0 in the bottom of the third as Neal led off with a single to left, stole second and moved to third when the ball sailed into the outfield, and scored on a ground out by Slavey.
The next two innings saw two defensive gems that might have saved the game for South Laurel.
In the top of the fourth, Corbin had the bases loaded with only one out when Nick Vorbeck hit a liner back to Martin on the mound, who caught the ball, then threw it to third to double off Derek Terry.
South made it 3-0 in the bottom of the inning when Brennan Miller doubled and scored on an Abner single.
The Redhounds got something brewing in the top of the fifth. Phillip Jones led off with a single to right. After Martin retired the next two batters, Kevin Goins doubled to right-center to score Jones to cut the lead to 3-1. He moved to third on the throw home. That was all for Martin, as he gave way to Neal.
The first batter Neal faced, Corey Ledington, hit a grounder to deep short, where Sears fielded the ball and fired to first. The throw was low, but Zach Allen stretched and made a nice scoop to end the inning.
“Those two plays in the fourth and fifth innings were key,” Harris said.
Abner, Sears, Moore and Quinton Barnett were named to the all-tournament team for South Laurel.
The Cards and Redhounds both advance to next week’s 13th Region Tournament at Knox Central. The draw was held today. The teams that will participate are: South Laurel, Corbin, North Laurel, Clay County, Knox Central, Pineville, Harlan County, Middlesboro. The Cards first round opponent will be Pineville at 1 p.m.
South will be looking to defend its 13th Region title from last season.