BARBOURVILLE — The Middlesboro Yellow Jackets weren’t able to climb out of an early hole and North Laurel pulled away late for a 10-1 win in the semifinals of the 13th Region Tournament on Tuesday.
Marcus Carson had two hits, walked and scored twice for the Jaguars while Ethan Maxey, Zach Hurley and Austin Thompson each drove in two runs in the game.
Logan Mallory pitched all seven innings to earn the win. The sophomore held Middlesboro to just three hits and an unearned run while striking out 11 and walking six.
“Our guys were just lazy at the plate and not aggressive,” MHS coach John Smith said. “We weren’t swinging at first-pitch fastballs right down the middle when he was just trying to get ahead. We told them that for seven innings.”
The Jackets had a chance to take the lead in the top of the first inning. John Millett ripped a one-out single to left and Tyler Yoakum and Tyler Prater both walked to load the bases with two out. Brandon Hale hit a sharp one-hopper down the first base line, but Weston Griebel was there to make the play and end the inning.
Carson, a University of Kentucky signee, led off the bottom of the first with a base hit to right and Griebel reached on an error when Middlesboro left fielder Matthew Mike and center fielder Jake Brock collided going after his blooper into shallow left-center. Maxey followed with a solid single to right and the speedy Carson slid home just under the tag from Prater for a 1-0 lead.
Hurley added an RBI single to right and courtesy runner Hunter North also tried to score when the ball scooted past Jacket right fielder John Millett. Millett’s throw beat him by a good 10 feet and Prater held on for the tag despite taking an elbow to the mouth on the play. Hurley later went to third on a wild pitch and then scored on Thompson sac fly to left to make it 3-0.
Middlesboro got on the board in the third inning. Yoakum drew a two-out walk and Prater lined a single to center before Brandon Hale reached on a Griebel error to load the bases. Lucas Crawford delivered a solid RBI single past short to bring in courtesy runner Jacob Schneider. The Jackets got within 3-1, but left the bases loaded for the second time in three innings.
“We’ve been doing that here late in the season here, stranding tons of runners,” said Smith. “That hurts you playing good teams. You have to take advantage of your opportunities and get your pitcher some run support.”
Hurley reached on a two-base error in the outfield in the bottom of the inning and then scored on Thompson’s single to put the lead back to 4-1 and it stayed that way until the bottom of the sixth.
Mallory retired nine straight at one point before Mike reached on an error with two out in the Jacket sixth.
After the rough first inning, Middlesboro starter Tyler Yoakum settled into a nice groove to keep the Jackets in the game. He retired the side in order in the fourth and worked around a single and an error in the fifth with an inning-ending strikeout.
“Like I said last night, we don’t really have a one, two or three man. All three of our guys we expect to throw a good game against anybody and that’s what (Yoakum) did tonight,” Smith said. “He got no run support. We made a couple of errors early and gave them a couple of runs. Tyler did his job.”
Yoakum just ran of gas in the sixth. Thompson and Mallory both singled to start the inning and Austin Rudder got an infield single when no one covered first on his sacrifice bunt attempt. Byron Rice walked to force in a run and Cole Lewis sent a sac fly to left to push the lead to 6-1. Carson walked to again load the bases and Hunter Collett took over on the mound.
He got Greibel to hit a grounder to third that potentially could have went for a 5-2-3 double-play, but the throw home sailed high and Rudder scored on the error. Maxey drew a bases loaded walk, Carson scored on a wild pitch and Hurley added a sac fly to extend the lead to 10-1.
Jake Brock and Millett both walked to start the top of the seventh, but Mallory came back to get three straight strikeouts to end the game.
North Laurel (23-11) advances to play Harlan County in the 13th Region championship game on Thursday at 7 p.m.
Middlesboro ends the season with a record of 22-12 and as a 13th Region semifinalist. Back before the season started both of those accomplishments seemed like they might be out of reach for the Jackets.
“We lost seven starters from last year and nobody in the region or elsewhere was giving Middlesboro a chance of doing anything this year,” Smith said. “We started a lot of sophomores and we had a pretty good season, made a pretty good run to make it to the regional semis.”
The Jackets lose just one player from their roster in senior Brian Hale and appear set to be back in the mix of regional contenders next season.
“We’ve got a good nucleus coming back. We lose Brian Hale — he transferred in as a senior this year and was a big asset for us on the mound, at shortstop and with the bat,” Smith added. “I told the guys we just have to get out and work hard to prepare for next year and good things will happen.”
— — —
Middlesboro…001 000 0 — 1 3 5
North Laurel…301 006 x — 10 9 2
Yoakum, Collett (6) and Prater; Mallory and Maxey. W- Mallory. L-Yoakum.