Photo | Nikki Estes

The Bell County Bobcats celebrate their 7-5 victory over the Harlan County Black Bears on Monday night. The Bobcats move on to play Middlesboro for the 52nd District Championship on Tuesday on Log Mountain.

Bell County defeats Harlan County 7-5

The Bell County Bobcats will face off against in-county rival Middlesboro for a shot at the 52nd District Championship after taking down the Harlan County Black Bears, 7-5, in the semifinals on Monday night on Log Mountain.

A six-run fifth inning and a complete game from D.J. Estes proved to be a winning recipe for the Bobcats after losing their last eight games.

“All year long we’ve struggled,” said Bell County coach Scott Chaney. “We’ve been real close a lot of times this year but just couldn’t quite get there. We told the guys before the game that it doesn’t matter what our record is, this is basically like wiping the slate clean. Bell County hasn’t been to the regional tournament since 2008, and our mission was to get back there. These seniors have been instrumental in making sure that happens.

“We relied heavily on D.J. (Estes) tonight. We said we’re going to win with him or lose with him, and he pitched one heck of a game. I’m proud for these seniors and I’m proud for this program. People had been saying all year long that there was no way that we could make it to the regional tournament, but we’re going.”

Harlan County came out swinging in the first inning as Quinton Boggs delivered the first run of the night on an RBI single, giving the Black Bears an early 1-0 lead. Jay Harris connected on an RBI single to extend the Harlan County lead to 2-0.

The Black Bears took a 3-0 lead after Garry Henson drove in a run. Harlan County held on to the three-run lead until the top of the third.

After Hayden Clark delivered a base hit, Alex Mays connected on a double, driving in Clark for the Bobcats’ first run of the game to cut the lead to 3-1. The Black Bears held a 3-1 lead until the top of the fifth inning when Bell County rattled off six runs to take a permanent lead.

Isaac Collett and Jacob Smith got things started in the fifth with a single apiece before Clark drove Collett in on an RBI single, bringing the score to 3-2. Mays added a single on the ensuing at-bat. Zachary then connected on a two-run single, giving the Bobcats their first lead of the game at 4-3.

J.M. Baker was walked, leaving the bases loaded for Bell County. After Estes struck out, Ethan Brock delivered an RBI single, extending the lead to 5-3. With the bases loaded, London Stephney was walked, bringing in an unearned run for the Bobcats, extending the lead to 6-3.

Collett was walked on the ensuing at-bat, yielding the same result, an unearned run for Bell County. The Bobcats lead 7-3 before Smith grounded-out to first base, retiring the side.

Henson and Matthew Simpson added one more RBI each to give the Black Bears their final tally of five runs, allowing Bell County to hold on and secure a two-run victory and a berth in the 52nd District championship game on their home field against in-county rival Middlesboro on Tuesday.

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Bell County — 001 060 0. 7. 9. 3.

Harlan County — 210 020 0. 5. 7. 3.

Estes and Smith; Harris and Collett. WP — Estes. LP — Harris.