HARLAN —Three Lady Jacket errors led to three unearned runs for Harlan County and the Lady Bears gloved hard-hit ball after hard-hit ball on the way to 3-0 win in the 52nd District championship game.
“That’s been the story of our season is errors. It seems like unearned runs just kill us,” Middlesboro coach Luster Powers said. “We played good defense except for a couple of mistakes that they capitalized on and that’s the way the game goes. Especially with two teams like this, whoever makes the mistakes is going to lose and today we made the mistakes.”
Harlan County won their fourth district title in five years with an outstanding defensive effort behind eighth-grade pitcher Destinee Jenkins.
Jenkins pitched a three-hitter while striking out one and walking two. The Lady Jackets hit her hard at times, but all of those shots seemed to be hit right at Harlan County defenders and they made every play.
“We keep a lot of hitting charts. Coach Johnson calls the pitches and we try to roll the defense to the pitch called and it worked to perfection tonight,” Lady Bear coach Tim McElyea said. “Those charts come in handy and we went over all these hitters prior to the game so our girls knew what tendencies that Middlesboro had and we rotated right to them.”
Jenkins herself snagged a liner and fielded six grounders. Second baseman Chyanna Harris was also busy with three assists and four catches, including a pair of hard line drives. Shortstop Katelyn Stittums had three assists, third baseman Farren Clark gloved a hard shot down the line to rob Lauren Spurlock of extra bases and right fielder Tia King ran down Laura Durham’s deep fly ball in the gap. All of those plays helped keep the Lady Jackets off the board.
Meanwhile, junior Makayla Partin was matching Jenkins pitch-for-pitch. Partin also only gave up three hits and no earned runs over her six innings while striking out two and hitting a batter.
Middlesboro got a bunt single from Bailey Hensley with one out in the first, a solid single to right by Madison Shields with one out in the second and blooper to left by Hensley with two down in the third but couldn’t advance any of the runners to second.
Harlan County’s only offense through three innings was a Bridget Robinson base hit back up the middle with two out in the second and a Stittums double that dropped in down the left field line just out of the reach of MHS shortstop Shae Moyers with two out in the third.
The Lady Jackets had their best scoring chance in the fourth. Jessica Carter walked with one out and pinch runner Amanda Biscardi stole second before Shields also walked. Tiffany Howerton advanced the runners with a ground out but Harris fielded Partin’s hard grounder to second and threw on to first to end the inning.
Jenkins led off the Lady Bear fourth with a hard grounder to third, but Spurlock’s throw to first was high and kicked off Carter’s glove for an error. Savannah Sergent was hit by a pitch and King moved the runners over with a hard ground out to first. Partin fielded a comebacker and quickly threw on to first as the runners held for the second out.
Mallory Johnson then sent a slow grounder to short. If there’s one player the Lady Jackets would want the ball hit to in that situation it’s probably Moyers, but this time she may have been distracted by Sergent running behind her or she may just have not got the bounce she was expecting as the ball slipped under her glove and trickled into left field as both runs scored. Partin got a strikeout to end the inning.
“I talk to them all the time about putting the ball on the ground because fly balls and pop-ups are usually going to be outs. Mallory has been hitting the ball well lately and going the other way as a left-handed hitter. She put it in that six-hole and we got a break,” McElyea said. “That was the turning point in the game. I was thinking whoever scores first might be in business.”
After working out of that jam in the top of the fourth, Jenkins didn’t allow another base runner the rest of the way.
“She’s been there for us all year. She’s battled and won 18 games. Like Coach Powers said, she’s not an eighth-grader anymore,” McElyea added. “She keeps her poise on the mound and shows her determination, in every situation she’s been a cool customer.”
Harlan County added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth as Jenkins hit a high fly ball to left that was dropped for a two-base error. Sergent moved courtesy runner Katie Robinson to third with a sacrifice bunt and with two outs Bridget Robinson smacked an RBI single to center to put the Lady Bears up 3-0.
Middlesboro’s seventh inning played out like much of the game. Shields led off with a hard comebacker that Jenkins knocked down and then threw on to first for out number one. Harris got to Howerton’s grounder in the hole between first and second for the second out and then went to one knee to catch Partin’s low, hard liner and end the game.
“We made the adjustments and we started hitting her pretty hard there toward the end but it was right at ‘em and there’s not a thing you can do about it. You just have to keep hitting them and hope they’ll fall,” Powers said.
It was the first district title for McElyea who is in his first full season as Harlan County’s head coach.
“You know, I’m a baseball guy. I played baseball at LMU and coached baseball a little bit here with John Lewis. This is really my first year coaching softball and winning this is big to me,” McElyea said. “Coaching girls and transferring baseball to softball is different and I had to adjust with the help of this coaching staff. With a change in coaches and an eighth-grade pitcher not many people really gave us a chance to do anything this year.”
Both Harlan County (18-9) and Middlesboro (16-10) advance to next week’s 13th Region Tournament at Whitley County starting on Monday.
“We just need to drop back, regroup and try to get our minds set in the winning mode. Hopefully they’ll forget about this game and come out ready next week,” Powers added. “We’ve got graduation coming up so it’s going to be hard to keep our seniors focused, but we’ve got a few days to practice and get ready. Hopefully we’ll get a good draw and we’ll go and see what we can do.”
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|Makayla Partin and Laura Durham; Destinee Jenkins and Bridget Robinson. W — Jenkins. L — Partin.|