Five Panther errors, grouped in the third and seventh innings, opened the door for Middlesboro to put up seven runs despite a 14 strikeout performance from Jacob Scalf.
“Everyone was talking about if you draw Knox Central with Scalf on the mound, you’ve got the potential to get upset,” Middlesboro coach Aaron Sowders said. “He’s the one kid who could be a spoiler, but we managed to get seven runs across the plate.”
Clutch hitting from Jacket seniors Trevor Hoskins, Skip Frady, Andrew Breeding and Lance Brooks made Knox Central pay for the extra at bats.
“We had some seniors step up today and these guys have got something to prove,” Middlesboro coach Aaron Sowders said. “I think we’re focused right now and we’ve overcome a lot of distractions this week.”
Middlesboro was trailing 2-0 with two out in the second inning, when Hoskins beat out an infield hit. Brooks followed by dropping a soft liner in over the first baseman’s head along the right field line for a double that scored Hoskins.
Casey Earls worked his way around a hit, a walk and an error without allowing any runs in the bottom of the second and the Jackets took the lead for good in the third.
Senior Tyler Hatmaker led off by reaching on an error. Scalf had him picked off, but Panther first baseman Corey Williamson’s throw sailed high as Hatmaker made it to second. One out later Earls reached on another error to put runners at the corners.
Scalf made a pick-off attempt at first base and Hatmaker stole home (pictured above) ahead of Williamson’s throw to tie the game.
Frady and Breeding were hit by pitches to load the bases with two outs and Hoskins lined a double to right to score two runs and put the Jackets up 4-2.
Knox Central again loaded the bases with one out in their half of the third on singles by Josh Gambrel and Tyler Hendrickson and Williamson getting hit by a pitch.
Frady relieved Earls and gave up a deep fly ball to Bailey that scored Gambrel. He hit Andy Mitchell with a pitch to re-load the bases, but got Cory Smith to fly out an end the inning.
The score stayed 4-3 until the top of the seventh, when two more errors led to three big insurance runs for Middlesboro.
Freshman Jake Partin reached on an error with one out and scored on back-to-back singles by Earls and Frady. Earls came around to score and Frady went to second on a throwing error. After a Chris Tolliver sacrifice bunt, Frady scored on Breeding’s base hit and the Jackets led 7-3.
Frady gave up just two hits over the final 4-2/3 innings to save the game for Earls.
Frady and Earls performance was big the Jackets, especially since Brett Pittman chose to leave the team after Sowders asked him to set out a game to rest his arm.
“We’ve got guys that stepped in today and did an awesome job pitching for us,” he said.
The Jackets bounced back after dropping a 4-1 decision to Harlan in the 52nd District title game Thursday.
“We started the year with two main goals and that was to get to Applebee’s in the All ‘A’ and win the state tournament,” Sowders said. “The district was just a stepping stone to get us to the region and here we are in the semis and still playing.”
Middlesboro (20-13) will take on South Laurel in the regional semifinals today at 5:30 p.m. The Cardinals beat Clay County 12-2 Monday.
The 8 p.m. semifinal will have Harlan, a 10-3 winner over Lynn Camp, meeting North Laurel, a 3-2 winner over Corbin.
— — —
Middlesboro 013 000 3 — 7 5 1
Knox Central 201 000 0 — 3 7 5
Earls, Frady (3) and Branham; Scalf and Sowders. W—Earls. L—Scalf. Sv—Frady.