HARLAN — Defending champion North Laurel took advantage of two Middlesboro errors to push across a pair of unearned runs and eliminate the Yellow Jackets 2-0 in the first round of the 13th Region Tournament at Harlan County High School.
Freshman left-hander Weston Griebel held MHS to two hits and walked two while striking out five in a shutout for the Jaguars.
Middlesboro senior Lucas Crawford scattered four hits over his six innings while walking two and striking out one. Errors figure prominently as North Laurel manufactured singled runs off the righty in both the second and sixth innings.
“He’s been a great and solid pitcher for us since he was a freshman. He’s thrown a lot of big games for us and I couldn’t be prouder with the performance he put up,” Smith said. “A lot of people didn’t expect us to even be in this game. Lucas threw strikes and kept them off balance and out front to get a lot of pop ups. He did a great job.
“The last two or three weeks of the season we gave him a few starts off to let him rest up because we knew we were going to need him down the stretch. Like I said I couldn’t be more proud of him, especially in his last outing against a quality squad like those guys. They swing the bats well and can hit the ball all over the place.”
Senior Cole Lewis led off the North second inning by reaching on an infield single. He was able to go all the way to third on an errant pick-off throw, despite a strong throw to third by Jacket right fielder John Millett. Austin Rudder walked and with one out Jack Capobianco laid down a squeeze bunt near home plate just along the third base line. Middlesboro catcher Tyler Prater came out to field the ball and made a swipe at Lewis but wasn’t quite able to make the tag as the first run scored.
“We made a couple of errors and we tell our guys most of the time you’re going to give up as many runs as you have errors and walks,” Smith said. “The first one was big. We threw a pick away and the guy goes first to third. Millett made a good throw to third and it was a bang-bang play that just didn’t go our way. That led to the first run they got.”
Prater threw courtesy runner Ryan Abner out trying to steal third and Jake Brock ran down Ethan Maxey’s drive to center to end the inning.
Crawford only allowed two base runners the rest of the way with Brock and left fielder Matthew Mike both making running catches in the middle innings. Capobianco singled with one out in the fifth but Prater gunned him down trying to steal.
“Prater’s another senior, our catcher. He was battling for that spot at the beginning of the year with (Cole) Frazier. Frazier’s shoulder didn’t bounce back like we were expecting it to and Tyler stepped in to that spot, his arm has gotten stronger and he’s done a heck of a job for us back there,” Smith said.
Griebel helped his own cause with a single to right to start the Jag’s sixth and he went to second on an error in the outfield. Hurley’s sacrifice bunt moved the runner to third and Thompson’s fly ball to left was deep enough to bring in the second run.
Middlesboro’s best scoring threat came in the top of the first inning. Brock walked and with two outs Millett singled back up the middle. A balk put the runners at second and third but Griebel came back with a strikeout to end the inning.
That started a string of ten straight batters he retired until Mike singled to right to open the MHS fifth. Prater fouled off two bunt attempts and then hit into a 5-4-3 double play.
Yoakum walked leading off the seventh inning and went to second on a passed ball with one out. With two down, pinch runner Van Ball stole third but Griebel got Mike to line out to center to end the game.
North Laurel (25-11) advances to Tuesday’s semifinal where they’ll meet South Laurel at around 8 p.m. Clay County plays Corbin in the early semifinal at 5:30 p.m.
Middlesboro ends the season with a record of 22-16. In addition to Crawford and Prater, Monday’s game also closed the careers of seniors Brandyn Ball and Hunter Collett.
“Brandyn Ball stepped up this year and threw a lot of good games for us. He dropped down submarine and it worked out well for him. He also played a good second base,” Smith added. “Hunter Collett got hurt and wasn’t able to play the last two or three weeks of the season. All four of our seniors are quality young men, great guys and they’re going to do well in whatever they choose to do in life.”
The Jackets will return the top six batters from Monday’s line-up along with DH Jonathan Partin next season. As long as the team can find a reliable catcher, they should again find themselves in the mix as one of the top handful of teams in the region.
“(Next year’s) catcher is a question mark right now. As far a pitching, we’ll have Tyler Yoakum and Brandon Hale coming back and Tyler McCullough as an eighth-grader threw a couple of good games for us this year so we’ll be looking for him to step into the rotation,” Smith said. “We’ve got some other talented eighth-graders coming up that will push some people and I think we’ll have some battles next spring for those open positions.”
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|Lucas Crawford and Tyler Prater; Weston Griebel and Ethan Maxey. W — Griebel. L — Crawford.|