Middlesboro heads to Hazard tonight for an All “A” sectional. The winner will advance to State All “A” Classic at Whitaker Bank Park in Lexington on May 3-4.
Hazard (11-5) is the 14th Regional All “A” champion for the eighth straight season. They cruised through their regional tournament with a 7-0 win over Buckhorn, and ten-run wins over Wolfe County (14-4), Lee County (16-3) and Cordia (13-0 in the championship game.
“I’ve not seem them play and don’t know a whole lot about them,” Yellow Jacket coach John Smith said of the Bulldogs. “I’ve talked to a couple of buddies in the region that played them early. Traditionally, they’ve got a solid squad and we’re not expecting anything less than that going in.”
Middlesboro (11-9) was equally impressive in their run through the 13th Region All “A” Tournament. The Jackets beat Oneida Baptist 19-3, Barbourville 18-1 and Jackson County 17-1 in the championship game.
The Jackets will have senior ace Lucas Crawford to start in Friday’s game.
“Lucas will start and we’ll have Tyler Yoakum and Brandyn Ball available. Those are three of our top pitchers that will be ready to go,” Smith said.
Hazard has three good, young pitchers they can choose from for the match-up in sophomore Griffin Wells and freshmen Kameron Conley and Ryan Smith.
“We went up two or three years ago and faced them and saw a pretty good seventh or eight grader. He had a really good breaking ball and he located it real well. I can’t remember his name, but I believe he’s a freshman or sophomore now and I’m sure he’s added velocity,” Smith added. “I’m sure they’ll have good, solid pitching and defense. We’re going to have to go in and play our ‘A’ game. We know it and the kids are relaxed and seem like they’re ready to go play.”
The Jackets “A” game had been missing for the past few weeks. They started the season off strong and were 7-2 after a 3-0 win over Corbin on March 28.
From there they went on a Spring Break trip to Myrtle Beach where they lost three of their four games at the Ripken Experience and haven’t been quite the same since coming back.
Errors in the field and on the bases cost the Jackets in two losses to Harlan County and one to Clay County last week. But Middlesboro may have turned the corner following Monday’s 15-10 win over Harlan. Smith had the team run, run and run some more following that game and they responded with a 14-0 win over the Green Dragons on Wednesday.
“We knew going into the season that we should have a pretty solid squad with pitching, defense, all the way around. But about midway through the 20 games we’ve played our defense started letting us down. We’ve bounced back and just had two errors the last two games,” Smith said.
“Up at Harlan Brandon Hale, who has been solid in relief for us all year, started and kept the ball down in the zone and came out with a no-hitter. We had a couple of errors at third, but it was actually a no-hitter. Offensively we stayed back and drove the ball, ran the bases well, put pressure on them and came out with a 14-0 victory in five innings.”
Middlesboro will try and keep that momentum going tonight in Hazard. The game starts at 7 p.m.