For a little over 12 innings, the Middlesboro Lady Jackets had been unable to score with Harlan County’s Destinee Jenkins on the mound.
Middlesboro finally figured it out in the sixth inning of Thursday’s district showdown, exploding for eight runs to wipe out a four-run deficit on the way to a 12-4 victory that avenged a 5-0 loss at Middlesboro last month.
“Destinee had shut them out for 12 innings, but Middlesboro finally got on some of her pitches and started gapping it, then we started booting it out,” Harlan County coach Tim McElyea said. “I thought we kind of lost our composure as a team and quit making plays.”
“I guess our girls finally decided we were going to hit it,” Middlesboro coach Luster Powers said. “You never know with girls. You never know when they will decide to play.”
The loss broke a five-game losing streak for Middlesboro (11-8), which entered the season as the 52nd District favorite but had a 2-2 district mark going into the game.
“It’s a big, big win for us,” Powers said. “It’s Harlan County’s first district loss, and we needed it.”
Neither team could mount a scoring threat in the early innings as a Savannah Sergent single in the bottom of the first inning and a Shae Moyers single in the top of the second were the only hits in the first three frames.
Middlesboro threatened in the fourth inning as Bailey Hensley and Lauren Spurlock led off with singles. A strong throw from Savannah Sergent in right field caught Hensley in a rundown that shortstop Kaitlyn Stittums ended with her speed. Middlesboro had runners on first and second when HCHS second baseman Chyanna Harris retired Moyers on a close play at first to end the threat.
Harlan County broke through in the bottom of the fourth, loading the bases on a walk to Sergent and singles by Bridget Robinson and Amber Creech. Two failed bunt attempts almost cost the Lady Bears a scoring opportunity, but Mallory Johnson fouled off two 3-2 pitches before drawing the walk. Jessie Johnson followed with another bases-loaded walk for a 2-0 lead.
Harlan County added another two runs in the fifth on doubles by Sergent, Jenkins and Creech.
A double by Spurlock and single by Madison Shields started the eight-run explosion. Jessica Carter followed with a two-run single to cut the HCHS lead in half. Consecutive bases-loaded walks to Morgan Thompson, Lauren Durham and Hensley forced home three runs and put Middlesboro ahead for the first time. Spurlock had a RBI single and Shields followed with a two-run hit to close the scoring.
Middlesboro added four insurance runs in the seventh after two HCHS errors opened the door for the Lady Jackets’ offense. Morgan Thompson drove in a run with a ground out. Hensley drove in two runs with a double after Durham’s single. Spurlock’s ground out closed the scoring.
Shields earned the win with 2 1/3 hitless innings after coming on in relief of Makayla Partin. Shields struck out three and walked one.
“She throws it hard,” Powers said. “Makayla had pitched well, but I thought they were starting to get on her pitches. Madison seems to pitch better in relief, and I thought it was time. Harlan County might have blown it open.”
The Lady Bears, who fell to 12-5 overall and 3-1 in district action, can still clinch the top seed in the 52nd District Tournament with wins over Bell County and Harlan.
“We hope we can take care of business against Bell and Harlan and get the top seed, then get another shot at Middlesboro,” McElyea said.
Middlesboro (11-8) hosts North Laurel today while Harlan County (12-5) returns to action Monday at Clay County.
Partin, Shields (5) and Durham; Jenkins and Robinson. W — Shields. L — Jenkins.