Middlesboro failed to take advantage of several opportunities to blow the game open after scoring four runs in the first inning. Bell County chipped away and got as close as two runs, but the Jackets were able to hold on for a 6-3 win to sweep the district series between the teams on Tuesday.
“We’re 20 games into the season and we’re still making bone-head freshman mistakes on the bases and with signs,” Middlesboro coach John Smith said. “We got up 4-0, had the bases loaded a couple of times and tried to do a few things. We’re just making basic mistakes that we shouldn’t be making this far into the season.”
Senior Brian Hale went all seven inning for the Jackets to pick up the victory. He allowed three runs, one earned, on five hits while striking out nine, walking five and hitting a batter.
Hale also led Middlesboro at the plate with an RBI double and a single.
“On the upside, Hale pitched a heck of a game. Went all seven innings and held them in check,” Smith added.
The Jackets threatened to run away with it early. Jake Brock reached on a bunt single leading off the bottom of the first and stole second and third. After Brandon Hale walked and stole second, Brian Hale delivered an RBI single up the left-center field gap. John Millett’s ground out to third scored Brandon Hale to make it 2-0 and an error and a balk allowed two more runs to score for a 4-0 MHS advantage.
In the second inning, Jesse Hoskins reached on an error and stole second for the Jackets and Brock followed with an RBI single to make it 5-0. Millett and Tyler Yoakum were both hit by pitches to load the base with two out, but Lucas Crawford popped up a squeeze bunt attempt to end the inning.
The Bobcats broke through with a run in the third. With one out, Evan Brock reached on an error and stole second. One out later Dylan Cox also reached on an error after a hard shot to second. With runners at the corners, Cox drew Hale’s attention over at first base while Brock broke for home on a delayed steal and scored as the throw sailed wide.
“They were up 5-0 for a long time and we kept holding them,” Chaney said. “I told this bunch, let’s just keep getting one at a time, one at a time.”
Middlesboro threatened again in their half of the third as Tyler Prater and Hoskins singled and Brock was hit by a pitch to load the bases with one out. Courtesy runner Van Ball was easily thrown out at home when a batter missed the sign for another squeeze play and Bobcat pitcher Zach Turner came back with a strikeout to end the inning with the score still 5-1.
Bell manufactured a run in the fourth. Hayden Gilbert led off with a bunt and advanced to second on a throwing error. A ground out by Jackson Lefevers moved him to third and Caleb Smith brought him home with an RBI ground out to second. Jeremiah Partin was hit by a pitch and Brock followed with a shot to deep left for a double. Jacket left-fielder Jacob Schneider ran the ball down and got it into Hoskins and the relay was perfect as Partin was out at the plate.
“I took a big chance there sending him, I take credit for that. We’re a young team and I’m going to take chances. They made a great play and threw us out,” Chaney said. “I will continue to take chances and put pressure on people, one day it may work out.”
“We were in double-cut there and Jesse was out there in the outfield, cuts it off and throws a strike to home to nail the guy,” Smith said. of the play. “That could have been a big momentum swing and got them fired up. They could have gone on to score three or four runs and took the lead on us.”
The Bobcats put up another run in the sixth. Aaron Jenkins walked to start the inning and courtesy runner Devon Miller stole second. Gilbert pushed a bunt past Hale and into no-man’s land between first and second for a hit, but Miller was ruled out on coach’s’s interference after he rounded third and Chaney grabbed him to keep him from trying for home. Gilbert stole second, Smith singled to put runners at the corners and Partin followed with an RBI single to bring Bell within 5-3.
“These guys didn’t give up on me. I thought they were going to hang their heads, but they kept battling and battling,” Chaney added. “We’ve got to clean our errors up. We had several people striking out, I think nine again tonight, and we can’t have that many. We’ve got to put the ball in play and we’ll be alright by the end of the year.”
Middlesboro got the run back in their half of the inning. Hunter Collett was hit by a pitch and one out later Millett singled. Collett was retired on Yoakum’s grounder to third as Cox made the tag unassisted. Crawford followed with a hard grounder that took a bad hop and got past Cox as Millett scored.
Hale pitched around a lead-off single by Jacob Rose as the Jackets held on for the 6-3 win.
Turner took the loss for the Bobcats. He settled down nicely after that rough first inning and finished by giving up six runs, two earned, on seven hits with two strikeouts, three walks and five hit batters.
Middlesboro (8-6, 2-0) hosts Whitley County on Friday while Bell County (7-7, 0-2) plays at Pulaski County on Saturday.
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Bell County… 001 010 0 — 3 5 4
Middlesboro…410 001 x — 6 7 3
Zach Turner and Aaron Jenkins; Brian Hale and Tyler Prater. W — Hale. L — Turner.