CORBIN — Mother Nature was the big winner on Wednesday as a loud clap of thunder followed by heavy rainfall brought an end to Middlesboro’s make-up game at Corbin after three innings with the score tied 0-0.
Before the rains came, the Jackets got hits from Jessie Hoskins, Brandon Hale and Matthew Mike. But Corbin’s Taylor Combs kept them from scoring.
Brian Hale started for Middlesboro and was working on a shutout as well. The Jackets caught a bit of break in the first inning to keep the Redhounds off the board. With two runners on and two out, Hale sent a pick-off throw wide of first that struck the Corbin first base coach. First baseman Brandon Hale was able to find the ball just a few feet behind him and throw home where Tyler Prater tagged out Derek Terry to end the inning.
Hale didn’t allow another runner the rest of the way.
With just six games left on the regular season schedule, MHS coach John Smith has to be feeling pretty good about where his Yellow Jackets are at. After losing eight seniors from last year’s team, the Jackets are currently 15-9 with a line-up that typically features one senior, three or four juniors and four or five sophomores.
At most schools this would be a rebuilding season — especially after legendary coach Bill Powell retired after last year. But expectations are always high for the Jackets and Smith and his coaching staff have pushed the youngsters hard to try and meet them.
“Middlesboro baseball has been pretty consistent every year throughout history. We always field a pretty competitive team against everybody in the region,” Smith said. “They graduated eight starters from last season and as a coaching staff we knew we were going to be young and we were going to make mistakes here and there.
“Now a lot of the guys did get some playing time last year, especially pitching. We have been inconsistent as far as stringing more than two or three really good games together. You can blame it on bad weather — we haven’t got to play four or five games every week like the schedule had,” the coach continued. “But that’s what we’ve been preaching the last week in practice: We’ve got to get consistent and put a string of games together in order to go deep into tournament play. We can’t afford to take a day off or we’ll be going to the house.”
The Jackets have won seven of their last ten games and the three losses came in splitting games with 13th Region contenders Harlan County and Clay County and a pretty good 12th Region team in Rockcastle County.
Middlesboro split a double-header at Rockcastle on Saturday, winning 7-2 and losing 10-2.
“They play good fundamental defense and they threw two good pitchers at us that both threw strikes and were around the plate all game,” Smith said of the Rockets. “We drew a couple of walks and Brian Hale came up with a big triple to drive in three runs. We pecked it around and put a few more runs together and ended up winning 7-2.
“Brian started and was sharp for two or three innings and sort of lost it. Hunter Collett came in and pitched the final four innings. He threw strikes, let them put the ball in play and we made plays behind him.”
Middlesboro plays their final home game today against Barbourville. They’ll visit Whitley County on Friday and take on Garrard County on Saturday. They close out the regular season next week with games at Williamsburg, Clay County and North Laurel.
“We’re feeling pretty good getting ready for tournament time,” Smith added. “We’ve got a little road stretch next week going to Williamsburg, Clay and North Laurel. We’ll see three of the top teams in the region and see what we’re made of.”
The 52nd District Tournament will start on May 20 at Harlan.