In an early measuring-stick game, the Middlesboro Yellow Jackets held their own in a 5-2 loss to South Laurel on Saturday.
Both teams finished with eight hits, South’s were all singles while Middlesboro hit four doubles. The Cardinals, considered a favorite to win the 13th Region this year along with North Laurel, did a better job executing with runners on base and took advantage a couple of Middlesboro mistakes to hold on for the win.
“Not to take anything away from South Laurel, they’re a solid squad with good coaches. But they had five infield hits and we mishandled the ball all game long and wound up giving them five runs. We had to battle our way back the rest of the way,” Jacket coach John Smith said. “You know, last year South would roll in here and it may not be that close of a game. We were young but now everybody is a year older and we only lost one from last year’s team.”
Senior Austin Vigeant pitched four shut-out innings to get the victory. The lefty allowed just one hit and three walks while striking out three. Junior Daniel Neal, one of the hardest throwers in the region, loaded the bases in the seventh before coaxing a ground-out to pick up a save.
Middlesboro senior Lucas Crawford started and faced the minimum through the first two innings. He allowed two base runners, but picked them both off. The Cardinals broke through in the third. Derek Spurkock and Tucker Martin both walked with one out and Trey Martin reached on a bunt single to load the bases. Neal followed with an RBI single back up the middle and Zach Allen brought Martin home with ground out for a 2-0 lead.
South added another run in the fourth. Taylor Morris and Brennan Miller started the inning with singles and Vigeant reached on a bunt to load the bases. Spurlock flew out to center where Jake Brock got the ball back in to shortstop Tyler McCullough and his relay to third was in time to double up Miller, who had tagged up. But Morris scored on the play to stretch the lead to 3-0.
Brock had led the bottom of the first off with a double for the Jackets, but Vigeant retired the next nine batters in order. Hale reached on an error to start the fourth but was thrown out stealing. Vigeant walked the bases loaded with two down in the frame and got Hunter Collett to ground out to second to end the inning.
The Cardinals picked up two big unearned insurance runs in the fifth. Trey Martin singled and was off and running when Neal singled to left, the throw to third got away and bounced into the Jackets’ dugout. The error allowed Martin to score and Neal to advance to third. Neal then scored on a wild pitch to make it 5-0.
Allen walked, but the momentum switched in Middlesboro’s favor when Tucker Miller hit a hard grounder that skipped off the mound and right to McCullough near the second base bag where he turned an easy 6-3 double-play. Johnathan Partin made a sliding catch of Morris’ shallow fly ball to right to end the inning.
Crawford gave up five runs, three earned, over his five innings while striking out two and walking two to take the loss.
“We put Lucas on the mound today and asked him to give us five. We’ve got him on a pitch-count early in the season but he kept us in the game,” Smith said.
Middlesboro left two more runners on in the fifth against Morris. Brock was hit by a pitch and Brandon Hale doubled to right with two down. Morris was able to get to Partin’s slow roller to the first-base side of the mound in time to throw him out to end the inning.
The Jacket bats finally got rolling in the sixth. Doubles by Cole Frazier and Matthew Mike put runners on second and third with one out. Courtesy runner Van Ball had tagged up at second in case Mike’s fly ball was caught and he was then held up at third. Collett followed with a hard shot that glanced off the South second baseman for a two-run single that made it 5-2.
Brandyn Ball was hit by a pitch and Brennan Miller took over on the mound for the Cardinals. With two down Brock lined a base hit to left. Crawford, running for Collett, would have scored easily on the play but Ball was ruled out going for third. Spurlock had bobbled the ball momentarily and his throw beat Ball to third. But Neal never came close to making the tag, though he did do a nice job of selling the play to the umpire and got the call. Instead of the score being 5-3 with runners on second and third, it was still 5-2 going into the seventh.
Smith was more concerned with the decision-making on the bases than the blown call.
“We’ve got a senior on first base and on a base hit to left he’s rounding second. That ball’s in front of him and he’s got to see that and hold up on his own,” Smith said. “He comes on and the ball’s 50-feet in front of him. He get’s thrown out before the run scores. That’s a spot where we’ve got to know when to stay put.”
Hale pitched the final two innings for the Jackets and struck out two without allowing a hit or a walk. Tucker Martin reached on an error leading off the seventh but became the fourth Cardinal runner left stranded in the game.
Neal took over on the mound for the bottom of the seventh and came out throwing gas. But the Jackets weren’t overpowered. Hale was retired on a hard grounder to the right side, John Millett laced a base hit through the left side and Tyler Yoakum singled back up the middle. Frazier followed with a hard shot to short and reached on an error to load the bases — down by three Middlesboro played it safe on the base paths. Mike battled to a 3-2 count and fouled off a couple of pitches before striking out and Collett then hit a hard bouncer down the first base line but right at Allen, who beat him to the bag to end the game.
Those three made eleven runners left on base in the game for the Jackets.
“We faced their best there at the end and I felt like we beat the ball all over the field in the seventh inning,” Smith added. “These guys have got to come out believing in themselves every day and believing they can play with anybody whether it’s the New York Yankees or anybody in our region.”
Trey Martin led South with three hits and scored a run. Neal had two hits, an RBI and a run scored.
Brock led the Jackets with a single, a double and a hit by pitch. Collett had the two-run single; Mike doubled, walked and scored a run; while Hale and Frazier also doubled in the game.
Both teams will be back in action on Monday with South Laurel (2-0) playing at Hazard and Middlesboro (2-1) at Oneida Baptist for a first round game in the 13th Region All “A” Classic.
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|Austin Vigeant, Taylor Morris (5), Brennan Miller (6), Daniel Neal (7) and Braden Miller; Lucas Crawford, Brandon Hale (6) and Cole Frazier. W — Vigeant. L — Crawford. Sv — Neal.|