The Middlesboro Lady Jackets are the 2012 52nd District Champions after pulling out a 4-1 win over Harlan County in Thursday’s championship game.
It’s their first district title since 2009 and the Lady Jackets will also be going back to the 13th Region for the first time since that year.
“It means a lot. It was here for a long time and left for three years — it was time we brought it back home and we did it,” Lady Jacket coach Luster Powers said. “It was a great ballgame.”
The championship game was a pitcher’s duel as neither Middlesboro’s Makayla Partin or Harlan County’s Katie Johnson allowed an earned run. The Lady Jackets overcame some shaky defense over the first three innings with stellar play down the stretch and made the Lady Bears pay for their five errors in the contest.
Harlan County scored first as they got a two-out single from Johnson in the third inning and Savanna Sergent reached on an error. Tia King followed with a solid base hit to left and Johnson was able to score when the ball got past Lady Jacket left fielder Kelsie Hensley. Harlan County had a 1-0 lead, but Hensley would more than make up for that miscue later in the game.
Middlesboro tied the game in their half of the inning as Bailey Hensley drew a walk, stole second and came all the way around to score when the throw went into center field.
Sarah Evans reached on an infield single with one out in the fourth, but Lady Jacket senior shortstop Carissa Padgett gloved a soft liner off the bat of Chyanna Harris and thew on to first to double off Evans and end the inning.
MHS nearly took the lead in the bottom of the fourth as Padgett laid down a bunt and advanced to second on a throwing error. Laura Durham blooped a single to right and Padgett tried to score when the throw got away. Harlan County catcher Bridget Robinson ran down the ball and got it to Johnson at the plate in time for the out.
With two out in the top of the fifth, Johnson hit a shot to deep left. But Kelsie Hensley was able to run back and make a leaping catch to rob her of extra bases. Hensley made an even better play in the sixth, stretching out while running at full speed toward the foul line to snag a Sergent liner headed toward the corner.
“She probably saved the ballgame several times. I know of three times she made great big catches,” Powers said, adding high praise for his entire outfield of Hensley, Megan Prater and Bailey Hensley. “Bailey went out the second game of the season and missed five weeks with a high ankle sprain. I knew if we could get them all three healthy we would have the best defensive outfield in the region, in my opinion.”
Keslie said her favorite play was taking that hit away from Johnson.
“I liked robbing the pitcher pretty good just because she’s a such a good hitter and that got her down a little bit and I think it effected her pitching,” she said.
The Lady Jackets took the lead in the bottom of the fifth. Partin walked with one out and took second on a wild pitch. Prater reached on a bunt single and then stole second. With two down, Lauren Spurlock hit a slow roller to short. Katelyn Stittums came up with the ball, but her throw to first came in a little low and Evans wasn’t able to get a handle on it as both runners came around to score.
“We were just trying to put the ball in play and make them make mistakes. They made several of them and we capitalized on that,” said Powers. “That’s what makes you a good ball club, taking advantage of the other teams’ mistakes. We’ve got good speed that puts pressure on a defense and they had trouble fielding the bunts and making the play at first. We just kept going back to it and going back to it. You’ve got to go with your strong point when it gets this time of year.”
Middlesboro tacked on an insurance run in the sixth as Durham reached on an error and one out later, courtesy runner Shae Moyers advanced all the way to third on a Tiffany Howerton ground out. Moyers later scored on a wild pitch to make it 4-1.
Partin worked around a one-out single by Evans in the seventh to close out the game.
The sophomore gave up just four hits and one unearned run over seven innings. She struck out one and didn’t walk a batter.
“She’s tough, I’m telling you. She never changes expressions, you never know if anything bothers her,” said Powers. “She’s a gamer and that’s the reason I saved her for this championship game because she’ll stay right in there and get them.”
Senior Savanna Miracle was named the tournament’s most valuable player. She doubled and belted a walk-off home run in the Lady Jackets’ first round win over Harlan. She drew a walk on Thursday and played very solid defense throughout the tournament.
“I really didn’t see that coming. Everybody has tried so hard and there were so many different people that could have gotten it. I’m just speechless about it,” she said. “This is my first time playing the whole year on the varsity team and it’s been an amazing experience. We have all come closer together as a team to be like a family and it’s just been amazing.”
Middlesboro managed just singles from Kelsie Hensley, Prater and Durham off Johnson. Miracle, Partin and Bailey Hensley drew walks.
Johnson allowed four runs, none earned, over six innings while striking out six and walking three.
Harlan County got two infield singles from Evans along with the base hits from Johnson and King.
Joining Miracle on the all-tournament team were Kelsie Hensley, Carissa Padgett, Megan Prater, Makayla Partin and Laura Durham.
Harlan County was represented by Johnson, King, Sergent and Stittums. The team was rounded out by Bell County’s Jess Sanders and Shasta Centers and Harlan’s Madison Noe and Jourdan Ledford.
Middlesboro (20-9) and Harlan County (17-12) both advance to next week’s 13th Region Tournament at North Laurel.
Henlsey and Prater said the Lady Jackets are looking forward to that challenge.
“It’s been a long time — not since I’ve been in high school — so it’s a pretty big deal. We’ve probably done more this year than we have in all four years of my high school career,” Hensley said.
“It just feels really good to win the district,” Prater added. “I have a very strong confidence in our team and I think we can go up there and prove some teams wrong.”
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Harlan Co….001 000 0 — 1 4 5
Middlesboro…001 021 x — 4 3 4
KJohnson and Robinson; Partin and Durham. W-Partin. L-Johnson.