In the six years since Harlan County High School opened, the Bears have developed several good baseball rivalries. None, however, can match the intensity of the showdowns each season with the Middlesboro Yellow Jackets.
The two have played in the 52nd District Tournament finals the past three years and are expected to meet there again this May. Their first matchup of 2014 showed just how even the two appear to be again this season as Harlan County won 3-2 in walkoff fashion. Junior center fielder Sawyer Fields walked with one out and came all the way around to score when Connor Leisge’s hit down the line in left field skipped past Middlesboro’s John Millett.
“This is a good rivalry. It was one of those games that had you on the edge of your seat the whole game,” Middlesboro coach John Smith said. “I think it was a very well pitched game on both sides. Errors on both sides led to all the runs.”
A pair of senior righthanders were in control most of the way as Harlan County’s Connor Leisge and Middlesboro’s Lucas Crawford matched zeroes through much of the game.
“Connor was great as usual and Crawford pitched very well for them. He really had us off balance,” Harlan County coach John Lewis said.
Harlan County grabbed an early lead when senior shortstop Scotty Bailey led off with a single, moved to second on Fields’ bunt and scored when Leisge’s grounder to shortstop was mishandled. Crawford worked out of the jam with the help of a double play on a fly ball hit to right field by Anthony Jenkins. Courtesy runner Cole Wilson was out on the play, apparently for leaving third base too early.
Harlan County loaded the bases in the fourth inning on an error and two-out hits by Tyler Cornett and Zach Doss. Brendan Rutherford, a freshman catcher, was walked by Crawford with the bases loaded to force in a run.
Middlesboro pulled even in the sixth inning as Millett drew a walk to open the inning and Tyler Yoakum singled. Cole Frazier had a bunt single beaten out that would have loaded the bases, but Leisge fielded the ball and threw wildly past first base, allowing two runs to score. Frazier was cut down at third on a ground ball to Bailey at shortstop, which turned out to be a big play for the Bears when Tyler Prater followed with a single to left. Leisge worked out of the jam by striking out Matthew Mike and Tyler McCullough.
Leisge pitched seven innings, scattering six hits while striking out 10 and walking only one. Freshman lefthander Jared Sizemore earned his fifth win as he came in to retire the side in the eighth.
Crawford suffered the hard-luck loss, giving up three runs on seven hits in 7 1/3 innings with four strikeouts and two walks.
Cornett had two hits to lead the 7-5 Bears. Bailey, Fields, Leisge, Doss and Chance Brown added one each.
Millett led the 8-6 Jackets with a double and single. Jake Brock, Yoakum, Frazier and Prater had one single each.
The two teams play again on Wednesday at Middlesboro.
Crawford and Prater; Leisge, Sizemore (8) and Brendan Rutherford. W— Sizemore. L— Crawford.