TYNER—The game held great importance with a spot in the region tournament guaranteed to the winner. The result held less drama than a prize fight by a young Mike Tyson. North Laurel provided a first round knockout with a 12-run first inning on the way to a 21-3 win at Jackson County.
“I was hoping we would come out and jump on them early, but Lord. They really answered it and hit the ball well,” North Laurel coach Darren McWhorter said.
In the top of the first inning, North Laurel was one batter away from going through the order twice. When the dust cleared, they tallied nine hits, two walks, and two hit batters. Every North Laurel hitter reached base in the inning. Only one did not get a hit and only one other batter did not score.
“That (Jackson County pitcher) is not that bad. He throws pretty good. We just hit the ball hard,” McWhorter said.
Four more runs, capped by Tanner Smith’s three-run homer, made it a 16-0 game.
“That guarantees us a spot in the region. Now you have to figure out if it’s going to be a No. 1 or No 2 seed,” McWhorter said.
The region seeding will be determined by who wins the 49th District Tournament. A tournament North Laurel will only have to play in the championship game. Clay County and Jackson County will meet in the first round after both losing to North Laurel in regular-season meetings.
“I like being that No. 1 seed and just having to play one game,” McWhorter said.
Eight of North Laurel’s runs in the first inning came with two outs. Most came one at a time aside from Zach Bullard’s three-run double to the gap in left center.
“They’re not that bad a team by no means and we’re not that good a team,” McWhorter said. “Sometimes you just have one of those days.”
John Allen picked up the win, but pitched only two innings. Bullard took over in the third with the game in hand. Allen allowed three hits with a pair of walks in his two innings, but just one run. He never seemed comfortable on the mound, possibly because Jackson County doesn’t have a bullpen mound to warm up on.
“We just pulled him early and he can throw again tomorrow if we need him,” McWhorter said.
It was a good time for North Laurel (14-9) to have one of those days. Not only was the game relevant, the Jaguars were also on a three-game losing streak, which matched their longest of the season.
“In a long season, you’re going to have ups and downs,” McWhorter said. “It’s all going to even out in the long run.”
The Jaguars lost a game they probably should have won against Hazard, then dropped a game to rival South Laurel. North Laurel added a game Wednesday with Clay County and lost that one 8-6.
“We gave the Hazard game away and played horrible against South Laurel,” McWhorter said.
The Jaguars led Clay County 5-0 before falling 8-6. Ethan Eversole just missed a home run that would have tied the game in the seventh inning.
McWhorter didn’t see any significance in the loss to a Clay County team that would be their main competition in the district.
“What matters now is these last 14 games that we have to play,” McWhorter said.
Eversole drove in the first three runs against Clay County with a double and a single. Two more runs scored on an error in the third inning for a 5-0 lead.
Clay County starter Todd McDaniel settled down from there, shutting out the Jaguars the next three innings. Clay County scored three in the third, two in the second, and three more in the fifth off starter Ethan Harris and reliever Jon Damron, who took over in the fifth.
The Jaguars nearly rallied in the seventh. Tanner Smith singled with two out and Bobby Caldwell followed with a walk. Eversole followed with a long drive off the fence to score two runs. It was the third hit of the game for Eversole and fourth and fifth RBI.
John Wilson relieved McDaniel and struck out Allen to end the threat.
North Laurel was scheduled to host Southwestern Pulaski on Saturday, then Pulaski County tonight before traveling to Whitley County Tuesday.
Mitch Howard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.