Bears ‘win one for Ben’ at Bell

LOG MOUNTAIN — John Lewis took a page out of the Roger Morris book of baseball on Thursday as the Harlan County Black Bears played their best game of the season in an 11-4 win at Bell County.

The Bears gave Bell fits early in the game with a well-executed attack of bunts down the third base line, much like what you might have seen when Lewis played for Morris in the 1980s and the Redskins were dominating the 13th Region. HCHS had three bunts in a three-run first inning and two more in a two-run second. HCHS raced to an 11-0 lead through three and a half innings on the way to its first district win of the season.

“It worked out well. If I could have got (assistant coach Drew) Chamberlain’s attention, we would have bunted more. We scored 11 in the first four innings, then I think we got satisfied,” Lewis said. “We did substitute some though because we needed to get some guys playing time.”

“They bunted us to death,” Bell County coach Scott Chaney said. “We were there to field the ball, but we just couldn’t make a play. They continued bunting and we continued making errors. They got a big lead and we couldn’t come back.”

Junior right-hander J Harris thrived with an early lead and retired the first 11 Bobcats. Harris could have had a five-inning perfect game if not for two straight two-out errors in the fourth inning that helped Bell score four unearned runs and extend the game to seven innings. Harris finished with a three-hitter, striking out 10 and walking two.

“His location was great. He was real consistent,” Lewis said. “Chamberlain and our other coaches have done a great job getting them prepared since I’ve been out so much lately.”

Senior right fielder Garry Henson led HCHS (3-9 overall, 1-2 district) on offense with two singles and a sacrifice fly. Justin Brown, Zac Collett, Tyler Casolari, Harris, Quinton Boggs, Eli Estep and Antonio Roman added one single each.

Hayden Clark had a triple and single with three RBI to lead Bell (5-8 overall, 1-2 district) Alex Mays added a single.

D.J. Estes was the victim of the Bobcats’ early defensive problems as he suffered the loss, giving up nine runs on seven hits with four strikeouts and two walks. Cole Hoskins added two runs on two hits with four strikeouts and two walks in 4 2/3 innings.

After Brown opened the game with a walk, Henson beat out the first of the bunt singles. Tyler Casolari was safe on an error when his bunt was mishandled. Jon Wilder drew a bases-loaded walk for the first run, then Henson raced home on a wild pitch. Boggs drove in a run with a sacrifice bunt for a 3-0 lead.

Michael Simpson was hit by a pitch to open the second inning, then Collett and Brown followed with bunt singles for the fourth run. Henson beat out an infield hit to bring in the fifth run.

Boggs and Estep opened the third inning with singles. Roman had an RBI single and another run scored when the Bobcats were unable to handle another Brown bunt. Another wild pitch and a Henson sacrifice fly pushed the lead to 9-0.

Wilder walked and Harris singled in the fourth inning. Boggs and Jordan Steele followed with RBI ground outs to close the HCHS scoring.

Harris held the Bobcats without a base runner until two straight errors opened the door. Harris walked JM Baker and Isaac Collett to force in a run before Clark cleared the bases with a triple to deep left. Harris then settled down again, retiring 10 of the last 12 he faced.

The two teams play again Friday at Harlan County.

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The Black Bears played the game in honor of senior center fielder/pitcher Ben Lewis, the son of the HCHS coach, who will miss the remainder of his high school career after a scare last week that landed him in the University of Kentucky Hospital and could have cost him his life.

“Ben is real popular with the team. The boys love him and he loves all the boys,” said Lewis. “It’s a blow to our team, and they said in the prayer before the game that they were playing for him, and I appreciate it.”

“We had no doubt in our mind that the rest of the season would be for Ben,” said Henson, who has attended school with Lewis since both were in kindergarten at Rosspoint. “It wasn’t a hard decision to do that after you see your best friend literally almost lay his life on the line for us. We knew he wouldn’t be able to play anymore.”

Lewis missed a game last week with what was thought to be the flu. He returned to the mound in a game on Thursday at Middlesboro and pitched into the sixth inning before moving to the outfield.

“He wanted to play against Middlesboro. He was hurting after every inning, but he was pitching an excellent game. It was one of the best games he’d ever pitched,” Lewis said. “He would come off the field and throw up, then go back and pitch. He tested positive for both the flu and mono in Lexington. You are supposed to stay away from contact sports for a month with mono, but we didn’t know he had it. We moved him to left after he pitched. When he threw the ball back in he couldn’t hardly walk back in. He lost 1.5 liters of blood due to a ruptured spleen. That’s what happens when you have mono, but we didn’t know he had mono until then.”

Lewis said he almost sent his son back home at that point.

“We were thinking about it, but we had a nurse practitioner and nurse among our fans. They came in the dugout and noticed yellowness in his eyes and said we needed to take him to the hospital in Middlesboro,” he said. “The doctors in Lexington said if I would have sent him to Harlan with his mom he wouldn’t have made it. They flew him to Lexington from the Middlesboro emergency room and moved him ahead of 29 at UK for surgery. He had two blood transfusions. His blood pressure had dropped to 70 over 40.”

Lewis, a 4.0 student who is line to be one of the school’s valedictorians, plans to continue his education at Eastern Kentucky University.

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Harlan County 324 200 0 — 11. 8. 3

Bell County 000 400 0 — 4 3. 5

Harris and Casolari; Estes, Hoskins (3) and Smith. WP — Harris (1-4). LP — Estes.