Don’t look now, but the Middlesboro Yellow Jackets are closing the season on quite a hot streak.
Wednesday’s 10-8 win at Clay County was Middlesboro’s fifth straight victory and tenth in their last twelve games and the Jackets are now 20-9 on the season.
Coach John Smith said more players taking on leadership roles has been a key to the team being able to sustain their success.
“We pulled some different guys over and talked to them, some guys that had played last year as sophomores. We just told them that they have to step up and be leaders for the team — whether that means being vocal or leading by example,” he said.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging or anything, but we’ve got a really good coaching staff. All of us played college baseball and we’ve got quite a bit of knowledge about the game we’re trying to pass along. The big thing is just getting them to buy into what’s going on. They’re doing that and they’re starting to believe in what we’re telling them.”
The game at Clay was originally scheduled for Thursday, but with a chance of rain in the forecast the teams moved it up a day.
Jake Brock led off the game with a base hit to right and just never quit hitting. He went 4-for-4 with four singles and four stolen bases on the night.
Middlesboro led 6-0 after two innings. The Tigers took advantage of a few errors and rallied to take a 7-6 lead. But Yoakum held his own in a tough environment and the Middlesboro offense came through to pull out the win.
“We jumped on them pretty good and got up 6-0 after two innings and then we kind of relaxed and kicked the ball around a little bit in the third and fourth and they took a 7-6 lead,” Smith said. “Our defense didn’t help him out a whole lot, but Tyler Yoakum threw a heck of a ballgame for us. He went the distance and we wound up winning 10-8.”
Yoakum’s effort continued a string of strong pitching performances by the Jackets. Last Friday he went seven strong in a 6-1 win at Whitley County. Monday it was Lucas Crawford firing a shutout in an 8-0 win at Williamsburg.
One recent change that has paid dividends for Middlesboro is moving junior Jesse Hoskins up to the number two spot in the batting order. Early in the year, Hoskins served as a kind of super utility player for the Jackets. He saw time at second base, shortstop, third and the outfield.
“We had a couple of guys leave the team early in the season that were outfielders. Jesse has played some at second base and filled in at shortstop when Brian (Hale) was pitching. Now he’s pretty much our everyday left fielder and has done a great job out there for us,” Smith said.
The coach added that having Hoskins hit second has been a boost both to him and the entire offense.
“First of all, Tyler (Yoakum) was struggling a bit in the two hole and we talked about what we should do there. Jesse can bunt and do some other things with the bat when Jake gets on base, plus he’s got quite a bit of speed himself. We’ve moved him up there for the last four or five games and it’s worked in our favor.”
Hoskins had four hits as the Jackets swept a double-header against Barbourville and Bell County last Thursday. Brock’s bat has also taken off over the last couple of weeks and Yoakum has taken well to hitting lower in the order.
Middlesboro has won the first three of their four-game road swing to close out the regular season.
“We’ve pitched well. We’ve played good, solid defense for the most part. On offense, we’re just doing a much better job of hitting the ball behind runners,” Smith added.
The Jackets finish up the regular season at North Laurel on Friday. The 52nd District Tournament starts on Monday with Middlesboro taking on host Harlan in the first game at 5:30 p.m.