With the swing of a bat, Middlesboro’s hopes for a district championship came crashing down. A three-run home run by Hannah Johnson ended the game in the sixth inning with Harlan County walking away with an 11-1 victory and the 52nd District Championship.
“We played a pretty tough schedule this year, and I knew Middlesboro had a good arm,” said Harlan County coach Tim McElyea. “Last year, I think…we went 25-9 and this year we’re like 16-12. I said ‘girls, don’t worry about the record. We have got to play tough competition.’ I told them to just trust their schedule and swing the bats.
“It started drizzling a little bit and things were going our way. Middlesboro had opportunities. They had runners on base, they hit a couple right at us and we were fortunate enough to get a double play there with the bases loaded. They had opportunities and just didn’t get that key hit. We’re junior heavy and was happy to get this win.”
Destinee Jenkins earned the win in the circle allowing only one run on seven hits and two walks. She finished with three strikeouts.
Kacie Russell and Haley Blakley paced Harlan County at the plate combining for four hits on the day. Russell finished with two runs on a single and a triple. Blakley scored two runs on two singles.
Johnson only registered one hit on the day, but it was a three-run homer that ended the game. She also reached base twice after being hit by a pitch. Lainey Cox went 2-for-4 on the night.
For Middlesboro, Madison Shields and Jamayha Poe led the way at the plate. Shields went 2-for-3 with two singles. Poe had two singles on the day. Megan Gent scored the Lady Jackets’ only run with a solo shot over the right-center fence.
Shields was credited with the loss after allowing 11 runs with three being unearned. She also tallied three strikeouts.
“Harlan County is a good ball club. They hit the ball, they put it in play. We had a few walks (and) a few hit batters, and they capitalized on it,” said Middlesboro coach Luster Powers. “We had the bases loaded I know three times and didn’t score a run. You can’t do that in this game, especially in a championship game. We didn’t get the big hit when we needed it.
“We put the ball in play, we never did square up real good. Maddy had a couple of good hits, but other than that we never hit (Jenkins) hard. She moved the ball around and did a good job.”
Runs by Emily Long and Blakley in the bottom half of the second gave the Lady Black Bears a 2-0 lead. Middlesboro responded in the third after Gent hit a solo home run over the right-center fence to cut the lead to 2-1.
Harlan County widened the deficit in the bottom of the third. After reaching on a bunt, Nikki Creech scored on the Jenkins RBI to increase the lead to 3-1.
The game remained silent until the bottom half of the fifth inning.
As the rain gradually turned from a drizzle to a downpour, the Lady Black Bears began racking up the runs. With one out on the board, Blakley drove in Rhileigh Alred to widen the margin to 4-1.
Both Blakley and Johnson scored on wild pitches to balloon the lead to 6-1. After being hit with a pitch, Regan Caudill advanced around the bases on wild pitches to increase the lead to 7-1.
An RBI single by Cox gave Harlan County an 8-1 edge at the end of five.
Middlesboro loaded the bases with only one out on the board in the sixth, but a double play cut the inning short with all three runners stranded on base.
A three-run walk-off home run by Johnson secured the 10-run victory for the Lady Black Bears.
Both Middlesboro and Harlan County advance to the 13th Region tournament.
Reach Anthony Cloud at 606-302-9090 or on Twitter @AnthonyCloudMDN