Pitching and defense have been the constants for North Laurel this season. Most of their losses can be traced to a third area.
“We just weren’t scoring any runs. Now we’re starting to come around and strike the ball a little bit better. We’re having better at bats,” North Laurel coach Darren McWhorter said.
In seven of North Laurel’s nine losses, they scored two runs or less. In four of those losses, they held opponents to one or two runs.
“We’ve played well defensively all season. That’s why we were able to keep all those games really close. We were losing 2-1 and 1-0,” McWhorter said.
There are signs that the bats are starting to catch up with the rest of North Laurel’s game. The Jaguars have averaged six runs per game over their last seven games. Six of those have been wins. Throw out the shutout loss to No. 6 Southwestern and they average almost eight runs per game.
“Our hitting is starting to come around. That was our Achilles’ heel. We’ve always got good pitching and we’ve always played good defense,” McWhorter said.
North Laurel almost matched those averages in one inning Tuesday. The Jaguars scored five runs in the first inning and rolled to a 7-0 win over Clay County.
“I’m glad we are locked in and focused early in the game. Now if we can do it for seven innings I would like to see what could happen,” McWhorter said.
North Laurel delivered a first inning knockout with five hits capped by Dylan Messer’s three-run homer. It’s the second of the season for Messer, who also homered Friday against Hazard.
“We’ve got a lot of guys throughout our lineup that can get a hold of one and hit it out,” McWhorter said.
North Laurel added single runs in the fifth and sixth innings. In the fifth inning, doubles by Logan Mallory and Messer brought home a run. Hunter North singled and scored in the sixth on Ethan Maxey’s double.
“Right now is when you want to start going on a little run these last few weeks of the season. That’s when it all matters. Hopefully you can carry that right on into the post season,” McWhorter said.
The pitching and defense were still there as well for North Laurel. Messer needed just 84 pitches to throw a full seven innings. Messer allowed three hits and walked a pair of runners.
“That’s 12 pitches an inning and that’s very efficient,” McWhorter said.
It reminded McWhorter of Messer’s season-opening win against Jackson County when he threw just over 50 pitches in a five-inning start.
“I said then that if he does that he can beat anybody on our schedule,” McWhorter said.
The defense did what it has done all year. Clay County had two runners on with one out in the second inning. North Laurel catcher Ethan Maxey threw out a runner that strayed too far from second base. The rally then fizzled. Clay County’s first two hitters reached base in the third inning. Messer fanned the next batter. Shortstop Jack Capobianco then speared a line drive and threw to first for a double play to end another threat.
The remainder of the week is loaded for North Laurel. Harlan County was scheduled for Thursday night. At 15-3, the Black Bears have the best winning percentage in the 13th Region. Tonight the Jaguars host rival South Laurel, who leads the region in wins. North Laurel travels to Scott County over the weekend for a doubleheader with Tate’s Creek and Allen Central. It might be hard for the Jaguars to match the five wins they tallied last week.
“If we win five games this week we’ve done something,” McWhorter said.