Middlesboro got off to a fast start and held on for a 9-4 win over Cumberland Gap in their home opener on Friday.
Junior catcher Cole Frazier paced a balanced Jacket offense with three hits while three others had two knocks apiece in Middlesboro’s 12-hit attack.
Senior Brandyn Ball earned the win by allowing just two runs on two hits over 5-1/3 innings. The side-winder struck out five and didn’t walk a batter, but hit three. Senior Hunter Collett got the final five outs. He allowed two runs on five hits while striking out three.
“We went to Union County the other night and let (Tyler) Yoakum and (Lucas) Crawford split that game. Those are two bulldogs for us. Brandyn didn’t get any innings with us last year and we dropped him down and experimented with him side-arm in the fall. He’s thrown well for us and kept them off-balance tonight,” Jacket coach John Smith said. “Hunter came in to finish it off and did a great job for us.”
Senior Brandon Bailey led the Panthers with a single and a double. He scored one run and drove in another. Sophomore Hunter Bayless also had two hits, two stolen bases and scored two runs. Gage Barnett had a two-run single while Gavin Burns and Jonathan Lorens also had hits for Cumberland Gap.
Bayless took the loss on the mound. Over 1-plus innings he gave up five runs, four earned, on four hits while striking out two, walking one and hitting two batters. Burns gave up just two runs on five hits over his three innings with two strikeouts and Devon Helton also allowed two runs on three hits in two frames.
“Balls hit right at us in the infield, this is probably the best team I’ve had since I’ve been here. But we’ve got to make the marginal plays, not spectacular ones, but above-average ones and we’re not making those right now,” Panther coach Nick Huckaby said. “That’s extending innings and doing the damage. Big-time players make big-time plays and that’s what we need.”
Tyler Yoakum got the Jackets on the board in the bottom of the first inning with a double down the left-field that scored Brandon Hale. John Millett also came around to score on an error on the play to make it 2-0.
Middlesboro loaded the bases in the second inning and Jake Brock was hit by a pitch to force in a run. Burns took over on the mound and started a 1-2-3 double-play. But Millett followed with a two-run double off the fence in right-center for a 5-0 lead.
Frazier led off the third inning with a single and courtesy runner Van Ball stole second and third. Matthew Mike walked and Ball was able to score on the back end of a double-steal. McCullough dropped a bloop single into right to bring Mike in and push the lead to 7-0.
“Cole Frazier had a torn labrum last year and couldn’t play at all. In two games he’s had no passed balls, he had two hits the other night and three today,” Smith added. “Yoakum had a double and Millet smacked one off the wall for two RBIs. We just got Brandon Hale back from basketball and it’s like he hasn’t missed a beat. We’ve got a lot a balance on offense.”
Branyn Ball tired in the six and hit two batters before leaving with one out. Barnett greeted Collett into the game with a seeing-eye grounder that scooted between third and short as two runs scored.
“Gage hadn’t played since Little League until he came out last year and I was impressed with some of the swings he took in the cage,” Huckaby said. “As a sophomore he’s still a little raw, but he’s swinging the bat and being aggressive. That’s something we’re trying to stress to the rest of them. Middlesboro at the plate was really aggressive, fouling pitches off and swinging the bat. That’s what Gage does and it’s producing for us right now. The rest of the team needs to start doing that.”
Middlesboro got those two runs back in the bottom of the inning on an RBI single from Mike and an RBI ground-out from Collett to make it 9-4.
The Panthers rallied with two down in the seventh. Bayless singled and went to second on a balk. Burns also singled and Bayless scored on a throwing error. Bailey followed with an RBI single to set the final at 9-4.
Middlesboro (2-0) will host South Laurel today at 1 p.m. Cumberland Gap (2-3) plays at Chuckey-Doak on Monday and will host the Black Knights on Tuesday in a home-and-home District 2-AA series.
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|Hunter Bayless, Gavin Burns (2), Devon Helton (5) and Brandon Bailey; Brandyn Ball, Hunter Collett (6) and Cole Frazier. W — Ball. L — Bayless.|