LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
If you were writing a script to what a district championship game should be, Wednesday night’s finale between South Laurel and Corbin would be the template you would use.
The game had a little bit of everything, including a game-winning single off the bat of Stephen Simpson in the bottom of the seventh to lift South Laurel to a 3-2 win and the 50th District title.
“Two outs, a runner on third and the ball barely goes fair, hitting off the chalk down the left field line,” South Laurel coach Wynn Harris said. “It’s fitting. This is how a district championship game should be played. I’m glad for our four seniors to go out winning the district.”
In Corbin’s 8-7 win over Whitley County in the semifinals, Redhounds coach Rob Ledington gambled and took out ace Trace Vorbeck after two innings in order to use him against the Cardinals. The gamble almost paid off.
“Trace threw the game he needed to throw,” Harris said. In seven innings of work, the Corbin pitcher allowed three runs on nine hits. He struck out 10, walked four and hit one batter.
South Laurel countered with Trey Martin and got five solid innings from him, as he allowed two runs on five hits while fanning four and walking two. When he left the game, the score was tied, 2-2.
“Trey didn’t have his best stuff but he did a tremendous job getting us into the sixth inning.”
The game was still tied 2-2 heading into the bottom of the seventh. Trent Abner led off by grounding out to short.
“When that happened it took away any bunt opportunity,” Harris said.
That brought Joe Gaines to the plate. Up until that point, Gaines had walked, struck out and had a sacrifice bunt. But this time, he laced a double into right center to give the Cardinals new life.
Ledington decided to walk Alex Sears, who had doubled earlier in the game, and face Daniel Neal, who had a single but also struck out twice. Vorbeck made it three times and South Laurel was down to its last out before extra innings.
With Simpson at the plate, both runners stole bases, putting the winning run just 90 feet away in the form of Gaines. The senior catcher stroked a single to left that landed on the line as chalk flew into the air and Gaines scampered home to give the Cardinals a 3-2 win.
“Seniors did what seniors need to do,” Harris said. “Simpson had the game-winning hit and a senior (Charlie Davis) came in to pitch in the sixth and holds them for Daniel Neal, who closed it out. Simpson has given us great production all year, usually in a quiet manner. He’s done everything we needed him to do.”
Things didn’t start out so well for South Laurel, as the Cardinals committed five errors in the first four innings.
“We started out shaky, kicking it (the ball) around and not putting it in play,” Harris said. “After going unbeaten in district play and getting the No. 1 seed, your team has all the pressure. Everybody wants to knock you off. But our kids kept fighting. We had things that didn’t go our way and some that did.”
Both teams also had several chances to take control of the game early but failed to do so. Through four innings, the Redhounds left six runners on base while South stranded four.
Corbin took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. Vorbeck led things off by reaching on an error and advanced to second on a passed ball. With one out, Martin walked Zach Farley, then Matthew Jewell reached on another error that scored Vorbeck. The Redhounds had the bases loaded with two outs but Martin got Keaton Burton to fly out to Abner in center.
The Cardinals had two runners on with one out in the bottom of the inning when Vorbeck issued back-to-back walks to Gaines and Sears. He then struck out Neal and Simpson to end the inning. Corbin had the bases loaded with two outs in the third but Martin worked his way out of the jam by getting Jacob Metzger to hit into a fielder’s choice and force the runner at third.
South Laurel got to Vorbeck in the bottom of the inning, touching him for two runs on four hits to take a 2-1 lead.
Abner got things started with a single to left, but was thrown out when he tried to steal second. After Gaines fanned, Sears doubled to right to keep the inning alive. He would move to third on a passed ball. Neal stroked a single to center that scored Sears to make it 1-1.
Simpson then singled to left, and Neal slid safely into third, where the ball got away allowing Neal to score for a 2-1 lead.
Corbin wasted no time in answering with a run in the top of the fourth to tie the game at 2-2.
With one out, Vorbeck singled to center then moved to second on an error on a pick off attempt at first. Martin struck out Brady Foley for the second out before Farley singled to left to score Vorbeck and tie the game.
Both teams left runners stranded in the fifth and sixth innings. With two outs in the fifth, Derek Terry grounded to deep short where Sears made a nice backhanded play and threw to first for what looked like the third out. But the first base umpire ruled that Zach Allen had pulled off first before making the catch. Martin struck out Burton to end the inning.
In South’s half of the fifth, Abner led off with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Gaines and advanced to third on a wild pitch, but was left stranded when Sears and Neal both struck out.
Davis took over on the mound for South in the top of the sixth allowing just a lead off single to Metzger.
In the bottom of the inning the Cardinals let a golden opportunity slip away when they had runners on second and third with no outs when Simpson doubled and Chase McWhorter singled, but failed to push either runner across.
After allowing a lead off double to Farley to open the seventh, Davis gave way to Neal, who kept the Redhounds off the scoreboard, setting up the thrilling finale in the bottom of the inning.
South Laurel now gets ready to host the 13th Region Tournament, which will begin on Monday. The draw for the tournament was held today. The three district winners are South Laurel, North Laurel and Middlesboro, with Barbourville and Knox Central playing Thursday night for the 51st District title. Corbin, Clay County, Harlan County and the loser of the 51st District championship game also advance to the region.