HAZARD — A couple of costly errors and a lack of production from the bottom half of the lineup made the difference on Friday in the Middlesboro Yellow Jackets’ 8-5 loss at Hazard in their All “A” sectional.
“Hazard has got a good club, I knew they did. I told the boys all week it was going to be a war and that’s exactly what it was,” Middlesboro coach John Smith said. “I wish them luck going on to the state tournament.”
Freshman Griffin Wells turned in an outstanding performance on the mound for the Bulldogs. In a 134-pitch complete game, the lefty gave up five runs, two earned, on four hits while striking out 12 and walking four.
“He was throwing his breaking ball for strikes, he located well and he did a great job,” Smith added.
Junior Josh Meehan delivered a two-run single in the bottom of the fifth to give Hazard their first lead of the night — it was a hard grounder that just scooted under the glove of Middlesboro freshman shortstop Tyler McCullough, who was playing in. Cole Ratliff and courtesy runner Anthony Hughes scored on the play to put Hazard up 6-5. Meehan later scored on a throwing error and Cudy Cumbow added a sacrifice fly to plate J.T. Haynes in the sixth to set the final at 8-5.
Early on it looked like it just might be the Jackets’ night.
Jake Brock led off the game with a walk and went to second on an errant pick-off throw. Cole Frazier’s ground out to second advanced Brock to third and Tyler Yoakum followed with an RBI single. John Millett ground into a fielder’s choice at third, but everyone was safe on an error as Yoakum advanced to third and then scored on Brandon Hale’s RBI ground out to make it 2-0.
MHS starter Lucas Crawford retired the first five batters in order before walking Meehan with two outs in the bottom of the second. Jacob Roll singled, a passed ball moved the runners up and they both came around to score as Rudy Akemon reached on an error to tie the game.
“I thought we came in focused and ready to go. Everybody seemed to be into it on the bus ride up here and for the most part we did (play well). We mishandled a couple of balls and gave them a couple of runs and that kept them in the game,” Smith said.
The Jackets answered in third as Frazier drew a one-out walk and Millett lined a hard base hit to right with two away. Hale followed with a two-run double up the gap in right-center to put Middlesboro up 4-2.
The strike zone seemed to shrink for Crawford in the home third and the Bulldogs took advantage. Haynes led off with a walk and Ryan Smith poked a base hit through the right side. Ratliff jerked a 2-0 fastball through the left side to bring in Haynes. Wells reached on an error to load the bases and Cumbow put down a squeeze bunt for an RBI sacrifice to make it 4-4.
“I thought Lucas was getting squeezed the whole time. We don’t teach our catchers to jerk balls that aren’t in the strike zone. I felt their catcher was jerking them the whole night and he was (calling them strikes),” Smith said. “We had a discussion about it and (the umpire) said he’d try to do a better job. But Lucas had to go deep into a lot of counts and then he had to go right at them and just about set it on a tee for them.
“The umpiring wasn’t great, but I’m not blaming it on them. The bottom line is that we’ve got to toughen up and produce.”
Middlesboro went back on top in the fifth when Frazier walked and Millett again lined a hard base hit to right with two out. This time the ball was misplayed by the Hazard right fielder and rolled all the way to the corner as Frazier scored from first to put the Jackets back on top 5-4.
Ratliff led off the bottom of the inning with a single just out of the reach of a diving Brandyn Ball and into right field. Wells then dropped a base hit into left and Cumbow bunted the runners over to set the stage for Meehan’s game-turning hit.
“We would get two strikes on them, but they stayed in there and battled and found a way to win at the plate,” said Smith. “They would foul pitches off until they got something they liked or something just off the plate. Then they’d stick their bat out and get a dinker here or there and that was the ballgame.”
In spite of the high pitch count, Wells seemed to pitch better as the game went along. The Jackets managed just a walk by pinch-hitter Jonathan Partin in the sixth inning and Brock reached on an error to start the seventh. Wells got a strike out and two ground outs to end the game.
Millett led Middlesboro with two singles and also reached on an error and scored a run. Hale drove in three runs with a double and an RBI ground out. Yoakum added an RBI single and scored a run while Frazier walked twice and scored two runs. Brock walked and scored once.
“One through five in the lineup, I’m proud of them. They stepped up and hit the ball all over the field. They produced all of our runs tonight,” Smith added. “It’s hard to win a game when six, seven, eight and nine are striking out every time.”
Middlesboro’s six through nine hitters went a combined 0-for-11 with one walk and struck out eight times in the game.
Crawford didn’t pitch badly for the Jackets while dealing with a questionable strike zone. Only three of the seven runs he was charged with were earned over 4-1/3 innings. He allowed seven hits and walked three. Yoakum came on in relief to get the final two outs in the fifth inning and gave up one run on one hit and two walks in the sixth. He struck out one.
Ratliff had two singles, a walk, scored two runs and drove in one while Meehan had that big two-run single and also walked and scored two runs to lead the Hazard offense. Haynes doubled, walked and scored twice while Roll, Griffin and Smith also had hits. Cumbow had two sac bunts and a sac fly and finished with two RBIs.
Hazard (12-5) advances to the State All “A” Classic in Lexington where they’ll meet the winner of the sectional between Beechwood and Bishop Brossart. That quarterfinal game will be May 3 at 2:30 p.m. at Whitaker Bank Park.
Middlesboro (11-10) hosts Bell County on Monday.
— — —
|Lucas Crawford, Tyler Yoakum (5) and Tyler Prater; Griffin Wells and Cole Ratliff. W — Wells. L — Crawford.|