LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
MANCHESTER—Just when Corbin White had worked its way back into the game, North Laurel Green’s Colby Howard delivered a knockout punch. Howard’s grand slam capped an eight-run fifth inning as North rolled to a 16-5 win.
“Colby Howard has hit it like that all year. In travel ball and league ball he’s had several in batting practice, just never in a game. He’s hit the middle of the fence. He’s hit the top of the fence,” North Green coach Jason VanHook said.
The win gives North Green 9-10 All Stars the Area 2 title and advances them to the district tournament next week in Manchester. North Green won its three games in the Area 2 Tournament by a combined 52-8 with no team able to go the distance with them.
“I thought we had the most talented team, you don’t know whether they will perform or not,” VanHook said.
One of the keys for North was to get off to a good start against Corbin. The North coaches stressed to the players to take care of business early.
“They have shown us in times past that they will be slow getting out of the gate two or three innings and then have to battle back. We know as coaches that they play so much better when they jump out of them from the get-go,” VanHook said.
They did that with a four-run first inning. Noah Rogers led off with a walk, followed by a Ty Baker single. Seth McClure singled to drive in the first two runs. With two outs, Tanner Bowling and Blaine Miller walked to load the bases. Despite the walks, the coach told Spencer Gilbert, “If it’s there drive it.” Gilbert jumped on the first pitch for a two-run double and a 4-0 lead.
“Everybody during All Star practice hit the ball very well. The biggest thing I was worried about was whether they would be mentally ready or not. They showed tonight that they were,” VanHook said.
Corbin answered with three runs in its half of the inning. Ben Phillips stroked and RBI single and Michael Todd’s single scored two runs.
Brady Gilmore and Rogers singled to open the second inning. Gilmore scored on a ground out by Baker. Howard singled to score Rogers and make it a 6-3 lead.
North made it 8-3 in the third inning. Cameron Cotton started the two-out rally with a bullet single. Bryson Brock and Rogers drove in runs with singles.
It wasn’t just about the North bats. They were also doing it with defense. After a pair of walks in the third inning, Corbin appeared to be starting a rally. Two good plays by Rogers at shortstop ended the rally. Corbin did score twice in the fourth inning on a two-run single by Steven Manon, but it could have been worse. With two runners in scoring position and the North lead at 8-5, Luke Ledington hit a hard shot to third base. Baker made the play at third and Tanner Bowling made a flashy scoop at first to end the inning and save two runs.
“Tanner Bowling works on that and works on that. He probably gets 50 or 60 short hops a day at practice,” VanHook said.
The momentum from Bowling’s play seemed to carry over to the offense. With one out, Brock beat out an infield single. Rogers and Baker reached on errors to load the bases. A hard single up the middle by McClure scored a run, but left the bases loaded for Howard. There was no doubt when the ball left Howard’s bat that the only catch would be made by the tent beyond the centerfield fence.
North did not stop there. Blake VanHook walked and scored on a two-out single by Miller. Cotton and Brock singled with Brock driving in the eighth and final run of the inning.
North had loaded the bases when Corbin’s Cade Cooney made a diving catch of McClure’s liner to finally end the inning.
“I’ve got to give it these guys. We absolutely beat then to death in practice and they worked hard. They earned it,” VanHook said.