PRESTONSBURG—“A tremendous baseball game on both sides.”
Those were the words of North Laurel Junior League Coach Mike Broughton after his team rallied for a 3-2 win over South Oldham in state tournament play in Prestonsburg Thursday night.
It was a tense, well-played thriller from the opening pitch as neither team seemed willing to have their season end one game short of a shot at a state title.
Both pitchers, Jake McWhorter for North and Austin Funk from South Oldham, were on top of their games, showing great control and working out of several jams.
“Jake was as good as I’ve ever seen him,” Broughton said. “He went the full seven, which is almost unheard of because of the pitch count rules. He didn’t walk a batter, and he also freed up more pitching for us as we go on.”
Funk was equally as effective, walking only two batters. Both pitchers gave up seven hits on the steamy evening.
South Oldham, which had beaten North in the opening round, scored first on an RBI ground out in the second. North tied it in the fourth when Austin Rudder was hit by a pitch with two outs, stole second, and scored on a double by Logan Mallory. “A big run produced by those two guys,” Broughton said. “That relaxed us a little bit.”
But South Oldham would regain the lead in the sixth when Ty Williams led off with a triple, and scored on a sacrifice fly. It looked like that would be enough, but North had one more rally left in them.
Ryan Abner led off the bottom of the seventh with an infield single, just beating the throw to first. That was all for Funk as he hit his pitch limit. South’s reliever would not fare so well. He walked McWhorter, then Keaton Kennedy laced a double down the right field line, scoring Abner with the tying run. That brought Dylan Messer to the plate with first base open, but South elected to pitch to him, and he made them pay, rocketing the first pitch into center field for the game-winning hit.
“It was a well-played, well-pitched, well-officiated game,” Broughton said. “They had a really nice team. We made all the defensive plays today, because the one thing Jake didn’t have was a lot of strikeouts. Austin Rudder made a diving, over-the-shoulder catch in left field from his shortstop position that was one of the best plays you’ll ever see.”
North will now have to beat Lewis Co. twice to win the state title and advance to the Central Regional in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. “By only having to use one pitcher tonight, we’ve got some arms left, so I feel like we’ve got a real shot at winning this thing,” Broughton said.