HCHS, Middlesboro roll into softball finals

Once a weakness in the Bell County bunt defense was identified during Monday’s 52nd District Tournament, the Harlan County Lady Bears attacked. A series of mistakes followed as Harlan County exploded for 10 runs in the second inning on the way to a 13-0 five-inning victory, earning a spot in the finals on Tuesday at 6 p.m. against Middlesboro.

“It was a snowball effect after we started making mistakes, and it wasn’t just one person. We had mistakes everywhere,” said Bell County coach Alex Barnett. “This is something we can learn from, I think, as we start preparing for next season.”

The execution on bunts put pressure on the Bell defense, and the Lady Cats responded with six errors.

“I noticed they had some issues with their rotations on bunt defense, so we just kept going to it and executed real well,” Harlan County coach Tim McElyea said. “We got our small ball game going.”

The big early lead was more than enough for sophomore Kerrigan Creech, who pitched a one-hitter with four strikeouts and no walks.

“Kerrigan hasn’t had her real good screwball lately, but she had it tonight,” McElyea said. “She got better as the game went on.”

Brandy Adams led the offense for the 18-6 Lady Bears with a triple and single. Destiny Clark singled twice. Rhileigh Alred had a triple, and Nikki Creech contributed a double. Breanna Early and Emily Evans had one single each.

Mackenzie Griffin had the only hit for the 10-11 Lady Cats with a single to open the second inning. Creech retired the next 12 Bell hitters to end the game.

Nikki Creech gave the Lady Bears the early lead after she was hit by a pitch to open the game. Creech was caught in a rundown between third and home when the ball bounced away from Bell catcher Mackenzie Napier and eventually beat a throw to the plate. Adams followed with a single and scored on Evans’ hit for a 2-0 lead.

The Lady Bears sent 14 batters to the plate in the decisive second inning. Clark had two hits in the inning, including a bunt single that was thrown into right field, allowing her to come around to score on the play. The mistake set the tone for the inning as several other errors helped HCHS break the game open. Alred tripled home two runs and Nikki Creech doubled home two for the big hits in the inning.

Adams tripled in the third inning and Early, the courtesy runner, came home on Kerrigan Creech’s hit for the final run.

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Bell County 000 00 — 0. 1. 6

Harlan County 2(10)1 0x — 13. 8. 2

Miller, Lawson (3) and Napier; K. Creech and Adams. WP — K. Creech (16-5). LP — Miiler.

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Denied a trip to the district finals last year by Ashley Overbay and the Harlan Lady Dragons, Middlesboro returned the favor Monday in the opening round of the 52nd District Tournament at Harlan County, and they did it in record time.

In a three-inning game that lasted only about 40 minutes, the Lady Jackets rolled to a 15-0 win and earned a trip to Tuesday’s district championship game against the winner of the Bell County-Harlan game. Kailey Owens, a freshman, tossed a no-hitter with three strikeouts and one walk.

“She threw strikes and we made the plays behind her,” Middlesboro coach Petie Gilbert said.

Middlesboro (14-17) pounded out 15 hits, led by Shelby Frazier and Aubrey Sowders with a double and two singles each. Hannah McCullough added three singles. Virginia Marcum doubled twice. J.J. Brown, Lindsey Buis, Owens and Macy Mink added one single each.

“Some nights it seems we don’t come out ready to play, but tonight we did,” Gilbert said. “I liked the way we hit the ball and were aggressive at the plate.”

Jamarah Young led off the game with a walk and scored on Frazier’s double. Sowders followed with a single. Marcum doubled home two runs for a 3-0 lead.

Frazier, Sowders, Marcum, McCullough, Brown, Buis and Owens combined on seven straight hits in an 11-run second inning. The Lady Dragons were also hurt by three errors in the inning, including a bases-clearing shot to center by Young.

McCullough singled to lead off the third inning and scored on Mink’s hit to end the game via the 15-run mercy rule.

Harlan finished the season with a 5-12 record.

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Harlan fell 8-6 at Lynn Camp on Friday in previously unreported action.

Angel Wynn and Havan Saylor had doubles for the Lady Dragons. Kaitlyn Cornett, Kelly Bennett, Payton Bennett and Kailey Cornett added singles.

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Harlan 000 — 0. 0. 5

Middlesboro 3(11)1 — 15 15. 0

Bennett and Cornett; Owens and Marcum. WP — Owens. LP — Bennett (5-12).