LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
One win away.
With South Laurel’s 6-3 win over Clay County Wednesday night, the Cardinals not only dethroned the defending 13th Region champion, but moved one win away from a trip to the KHSAA state tournament in Lexington.
“This was a good feat for our group,” South Laurel coach Wynn Harris said. “Of course we had a goal to get to the region finals. Now we have to get ready for Middlesboro.” The Yellowjackets upset North Laurel in the other region semifinal. South Laurel and Middlesboro split its regular season meetings with both winning at home, Middlesboro, 13-5, and South Laurel, 12-2.
“I feel good about how we’ve started playing well in tight games, but the region finals will be a different kind of pressure,” Harris said. “But this team has matured and built their character. You can’t win the title until you get there, and now we are there.”
The Cardinals (25-11) used four different pitchers in the win over Clay County (20-13). Charlie Davis started and got the win, going 5 1/3 innings allowing one run on five hits. He struck out two and hit two. Stephen Simpson pitched one inning, allowing a run on three hits. Trey Martin threw 2/3 of an inning, striking out three, and Alex Sears pitched the seventh, allowing one run on two hits to pick up the save.
“The last two games we’ve run a lot of guys out onto the mound and other positions,” Harris said. “This has been a group effort, a team effort throughout the line-up. They pick each other up.”
Harris also noted that his team has had several unsung heroes.
“Austin Moore caught a couple of innings for us tonight and ran the bases well,” Harris said. “Charlie (Davis) got us into the fifth inning and gave us a strong effort.”
Then there was Stephen Simpson who not only caught the majority of the game, but also threw an inning and had two doubles and a single.
“He’s a senior leader,” Harris said. “He gets things done quietly. You look up and wonder what’s he done, and he had two doubles.”
The Cards got on the board first, in the top of the first, when Joe Gaines singled and scored on a Simpson ground out for a 1-0 lead. South added another run in the second on a solo home run to center by Drew Irvin. “Drew has power and got all over that one,” Harris said.
Meanwhile, Davis was keeping the Tigers off the scoreboard, but that didn’t mean Clay County wasn’t without chances. The Tigers left the bases loaded in the third thanks to consecutive singles from Nathaniel Huff, Corey Corum and Austin Carnahan with one out, but Davis retired the next two batters to end the threat.
That would be a recurring theme for Clay County throughout the game as the Tigers left 12 runners stranded, including the bases loaded twice.
South tacked three runs on the board in the fourth to push its lead to 5-0 and chase starting pitcher Tanner Hensley from the game.
Simpson got things started with a lead-off double to left-center, and Moore came in as a courtesy runner. Chase McWhorter followed with a double of his own to drive in Moore. Irvin then singled in McWhorter. A sacrifice fly by Zach Allen to the fence in right brought Irvin around to make it 5-0. Tanner Hoskins took over on the mound and got the final out of the inning.
The Tigers stranded two runners in the bottom of the fourth. South stranded one in the fifth when Simpson doubled with one out, and Moore again came in to run. He advanced to third on a ground out, but couldn’t advance any further.
Clay County finally got on the board in the bottom of the fifth, scoring two runs on four hits to cut the South lead to 5-2.
Corum got things started with a single to center, and that was all for Davis, as Simpson took over on the mound. Carnahan singled to left, as did Hensley, to load the bases with no outs. After getting Tyler Allen to pop out to third, Tanner Smith singled off Simpson to drive in Corum and Carnahan. Dustin Gross then hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.
Clay would leave the bases loaded in the sixth, then strand two more in the seventh.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals scored their final run in the top of the seventh when, with one out, Daniel Neal fanned, but the ball got away from the catcher and he advanced to first. Matthew Slavey came in to run for him. Simpson and McWhorter followed with back-to-back singles to drive Slavey home to make it 6-2.
Sears took over on the mound for South in the bottom of the inning and two of the first three batters he faced got on base with singles. After Clay scored to cut the lead to 6-3, the tying run was at the plate but Sears struck out Huff to end the game.
“When we pitch well, play defense and hit well, we are a hard team to beat,” Harris said.
The championship game was scheduled for Thursday night.
South Laurel uses pitching, timely hitting to beat Clay County, 6-3
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
One win away.
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