John Millett scored the tying run on a wild pitch and eighth-grader Tyler McCullough put the Jackets ahead to stay with an RBI single in the sixth inning as Middlesboro defeated Bell County 6-3 on Tuesday to complete a sweep of the home-and-home series.
Senior Lucas Crawford pitched all seven innings to get the win. He scattered seven hits and only one of the runs he allowed was earned. Crawford was efficient as he needed just 86 pitches in the complete game. He struck out four without walking a batter.
“Lucas was hitting his spots all game. He missed with a couple of 0-2 and 1-2 pitches and they got good wood on it and got a couple of hits and that kept them in the game,” Middlesboro coach John Smith said. “I had a little conference with him on the mound and he started locating better after he got ahead. He made the pitches he needed to make, got the ground balls and fly balls that we needed to win the game.”
Bobcat sophomore Aaron Jenkins was just as effective in holding Middlesboro to just one run on three hits over the first five innings. He tired in the sixth and gave up three runs on three hits as the Jackets rallied into the lead.
“Aaron pitched a good game, he threw strikes. Our infielders didn’t make the plays for him,” Bell coach Scott Chaney said. “It’s like their minds weren’t in it and the rest of our team kind of let him down.”
The Jackets got on the board first when Matthew Mike drew a walk to start the second inning. He went to second on a Brandyn Ball sacrifice bunt and was safe at third on an error on the play. McCullough reached on a bunt single and Crawford walked to load the bases. Jake Brock brought Mike in with a sacrifice bunt down the first base line for a 1-0 MHS lead.
Bell answered in the bottom of the inning as Jacob Rose and Chase Woolum both singled. Hayden Gilbert put down a bunt and was safe on an error as Rose scored. With runners at second and third, Evan Brock flied out to left and Woolum appeared to score on the play as Gilbert went to third. But on appeal it was ruled that Woolum left third early and a confused Gilbert walked off the base and was tagged out to end the inning with an unusual triple-play.
“Middlesboro played good, but we made some errors and some bad base-running mistakes that cost us the game,” Chaney said.
The Bobcats took the lead in the third when Jared Slusher roped a triple down the right field line and scored on an error on the play to make it 2-1.
“We still made a couple of errors here and there, but we didn’t compound it with another one right after like we’ve been doing to give them two or three runs per inning,” Smith said.
Brock’s run scoring sac bunt started a string of seven straight batters retired by Jenkins and that number grew to 11 of 12. The only runner he allowed over the third, fourth and fifth innings was McCullough, who singled with two down in the fourth.
“Jenkins did a great job. He threw fast balls, got ahead in the count, then came with some off-speed and kept us off balance,” Smith added. “It seemed like every hitter was hitting a fly ball to the outfield and he had them out on their front foot. I want to give Aaron credit, he’s come a long way. I’ve watched him grow up playing, saw him a lot this summer and he’s really coming on.”
Meanwhile, Crawford worked around lead-off singles by Cox in the fourth inning and Gilbert in the fifth as the score remained 2-1 until the sixth.
Millett led off the top of the sixth with double into the left-center gap. Hale’s single put runners at the corners — his bouncer down the line arrived at Rose on the third base bag at the same time as Millett was sliding in. There was contact between the runner and fielder but no interference was called because the play happened right on the base.
Millett was able to score the tying run on a wild pitch. It was a very close play at the plate as Caleb Smith ran down the ball and got it Jenkins just as Millet was sliding in, but Millett was ruled safe. Mike walked and Ball bunted the runners into scoring position. McCullough bunted foul down the first base line but then scorched a 3-2 offering from Jenkins through the left side for an RBI single.
“He laid down a drag bunt earlier in the game with a runner on second on his own and beat it out for a hit. He was trying to do that again and didn’t realize that the corners were charging in. But he came back with a big hit and drove in a run,” Smith said. “It’s like we told him after the game, he’s no longer an eighth-grader. He’s got 25-26 varsity games under his belt and he’s one of us now.”
Zach Turner took over on the mound for Jenkins and gave up an RBI ground out to Crawford that put Middlesboro up 4-2.
The Bobcats got one run back in the bottom of the sixth as Smith singled, went to second on a Jenkins sac bunt and then scored easily on a double by Dylan Cox. But that was all the damage Crawford would allow.
Middlesboro pushed across two unearned insurance runs in the seventh. Millett singled with two out and Hale reached on an error. Mike delivered an RBI single and Hale came home as Ball reached on an error to make it 6-3.
Crawford got the first two outs in the bottom of the inning on grounders but Turner reached on an error. Crawford came back to strike out Slusher to end the game.
Middlesboro hosts the 52nd District Tournament this year and wrapped up the number two seed with the two wins over Bell. The Jackets will meet the Bobcats in first round.
“(Monday) night shows that anything can happen in this game. Harlan City beat Harlan County 1-0 in a one-hitter from both sides. We’ll have to play Bell County in the first round, we have beat them twice and that will be in the back of their minds,” Smith said. “Bell County, they’re not going to lay down. They’ll come out and fight, battle and scrape and make us earn everything we get just like they did in these two games.”
Middlesboro (13-10, 4-2 in district play) will take on Clay County Friday at the Knox Central Invitational. They’ll also play the hosts and Pulaski County there on Saturday.
Bell County (10-9, 2-4) hosts North Laurel on Thursday and Williamsburg on Friday.
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|Lucas Crawford and Tyler Prater; Aaron Jenkins, Zach Turner (6) and Caleb Smith. W — Crawford. L — Jenkins.|