By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
North Laurel wrapped up the regular season Friday with a 13-3 win over Middlesboro. The Jaguars capped a 19-11 regular season with only two losses in their final 11 games. Now the Jaguars can turn their attention to tonight’s 49th District Tournament.
“We’ve got the pitching set up. Everybody is ready to roll. We’ll get out there and see what happens. I like the way we’re playing right now,” North Laurel coach Darren McWhorter said.
The Jaguars will open with Jackson County at 5:30 p.m. with the winner staying on the field to face No. 1 seed Clay County at North Laurel. The winner and runner-up advance to the region at Knox Central.
North Laurel’s only losses in May were to a top-10 rated Ryle and to Bell County. Against Ryle the Jaguars pitching ran thin over a long weekend. The 1-0 loss to Bell County is harder to explain, but may serve a purpose.
“We got a little wake-up call early in the week over in Bell County. We came back with Harlan County and Middlesboro. We were able to play well enough to get wins those two,” McWhorter said.
Friday’s 13-3 win over Middlesboro featured a slow start and a strong finish. After three innings, the teams had combined for just one hit. Zach Hurley bunted for a single in the third inning, but was picked off. Despite the scarcity of hits, North Laurel scored three times in the first inning.
“Sometimes being lucky is better than being good. You have to be patient at the plate and make people throw strikes. We were getting some walks and getting on base,” McWhorter said.
Marcus Carson, Ethan Maxey, and Hurley all walked in the first inning. Carson scored on a wild pitch and Maxey on a throwing error. Hurley scored on a fly ball by Austin Thompson.
North Laurel would add another run in the fourth inning. Austin Rudder doubled and scored on a single by Carson. Rudder had a pair of doubles and a walk in three trips to the plate.
“He hit it really well tonight. He was yanking it down the line,” McWhorter said.
North Laurel starter Byron Rice held the Yellowjackets (20-9) scoreless until the fifth inning. Even after they scored three in the fifth, they had managed only two hits. The Middlesboro rally started with Rice plunking a batter in the back. He hit four batters on the night. McWhorter said the problem was the release point on his curve ball.
“Even though it’s curving it’s going to hit you. That happens from time to time. You just have to lock in,” McWhorter said. “Other than that I thought he threw really well. He’s going to make you put it in play.”
After the hit batter, two bunts loaded the bases. Another hit batter forced in the first run. An error allowed the second run to score. Tyler Prater hit a hard grounder up the middle that Rudder snagged. Although one run scored on the play, Rudder’s stop kept the tying run from scoring.
Then with the bases loaded, Thompson made a diving catch in right field on a sinking liner by Jake Brock to end the inning.
“That’s what I preach to them is you have got to make the plays defensively. You know they are going to hit the ball,” McWhorter said.
North Laurel answered with five runs in the bottom of the fifth inning for a 9-3 lead. The big shot in the inning was a three-run double by Jake McWhorter. Zach Hurley had an RBI double and Cole Lewis singled home a run. Weston Griebel opened the inning with a double.
The Jaguars ended the game with four runs in the sixth. Rudder smacked a two-run double. Cole Lewis ended the game with an RBI single.