CORBIN — It turns out all Tyler Yoakum needed to get back on track was another showdown with the Corbin Redhounds.
The Middlesboro junior shut-out Corbin for the second time this season, firing a five-hitter on Tuesday in the Yellow Jackets’ 2-0 win. Yoakum had held the Redhounds a one hit in a 3-0 victory back on March 28, but went through a rough patch in his most recent starts. That stretch included allowing several runs in district starts against Harlan and Bell County that Middlesboro eventually won.
“He was just leaving his pitches up in the zone and people were teeing off on him. We’ve rested him since that last outing against Bell County, thrown him a couple of innings in relief here and there and he’s done better,” MHS coach John Smith said. “It was his turn in the rotation and he went out and kept the ball down, kept them off balance with his off-speed stuff and got a lot of fly balls and grounders.
“He only faced four hitters per inning up until the seventh when he faced five. You’re going to win a lot of ballgames when your pitcher does that.”
Yoakum, now 7-1 on the season, was efficient and in control throughout the game. He needed just 84 pitches to complete seven innings and struck out four without walking a batter. He gave up three doubles and hit one batter but didn’t allow two runners to reach in the same inning until the seventh.
Corbin senior Austin Combs was nearly as effective. He gave up two runs, one earned, on six hits while striking out four, walking one and hitting two in the loss.
The Jackets failed to take advantage of a lead-off single by Jake Brock in the first or a base hit by Brandon Hale in the second, but they got on the board in the top of the third inning.
Eighth-grader Tyler McCullough poked a one-out single through the right side and Brock reached on a fielder’s choice grounder as McCullough was forced out at second. Brock advanced to third when Cole Frazier reached on an error and then scored on a wild pitch.
That was all the support Yoakum needed, but the Jackets added an insurance run in the fourth. Junior outfielder John Millett drove a double up the right-center gap to start the inning and went to third on Hale’s ground out. With two down, sophomore Matthew Mike dropped a base hit into left to bring Millett home for a 2-0 lead.
“Matthew has also been struggling a little bit of late, but comes up there in a big situation and drives in our second run,” Smith added. “We manufactured a couple of runs, played good defense and came out with a win.”
After giving up a double to Andrew Jones leading off the bottom of the first Yoakum retired the next eight batters in order before hitting Jones with a pitch with two out in the third. He came back with a strikeout to end the inning.
Combs singled to start the fourth inning but Yoakum induced two fly outs and a grounder. Jace Woodruff reached on an error in the fifth and went to second on a ground out, but Yoakum struck out Jones to end that threat.
Nick Vorbeck lined a double to left with two outs in the sixth but Yoakum got another fly out to end that inning.
Yoakum got two quick outs in the seventh before Austin O’Neil flared one just inside the left-field line about 50 feet beyond third base that went for a double. Conner Hicks then hit a hard grounder into the hole on the left side. Middlesboro senior third baseman Lucas Crawford saved a run by making a diving stop, but his throw to first wasn’t in time and Corbin had runners at the corners. Yoakum kept his cool and ended the threat and the game by striking out Jones again.
The win was the fourth for Middlesboro in their last five games. That recent stretch includes wins over Clay County and Knox Central.
“We went through that slump following Spring Break but we’ve put that behind us. Our pitching has sort of been carrying us for the most part but coming down the stretch it seems like we’re playing better baseball every day,” Smith said. “We had four days off last week, I think the boys needed that break because we had played 27 games without any extended time off. Hopefully we can finish the season off strong.”
Corbin (14-10) hosts McCreary Central on Thursday. The Redhounds should be an interesting team to watch in the postseason. They play a lot of low-scoring games and have fared well against the other likely 13th Region Tournament teams outside of Middlesboro. Corbin swept three games against South Laurel and split two with North Laurel, Harlan County and Whitley County and also has wins over Knox Central and Clay County.
Middlesboro (18-12) has games against McCreary Central and Jackson County on Friday and will visit Whitley County on Saturday. The Jackets are hosting the 52nd District Tournament May 19 and 20. Top seed Harlan County will play Harlan in the early Monday semifinal with the Jackets taking on Bell County in the late semifinal. The two winners will play in the championship game on Tuesday.
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|Tyler Yoakum and Tyler Prater; Austin Combs and Austin O’Neil. W — Yoakum (7-1). L — Combs.|