With his top pitcher graduating and an eighth grader taking over on the mound, Harlan County coach Tim McElyea was counting on an improved offense to help his Lady Bears continue their winning ways in 2014.
But not in his wildest dreams would McElyea have expected an 11-run explosion in the first inning of the first game. Harlan County grabbed the lead early with a parade of hits and coasted to a 16-3 five-inning win.
“We’ve been hitting off the tee and the soft toss all winter, and I thought we could be a good hitting team. I think we made a statement with the way we hit it,” said McElyea, who is entering his first full season as the HCHS coach. “I thought our girls were aggressive at the plate, and they hit it hard. We also did a good job executing with the hit and run and a squeeze.”
Four Lady Bears had three hits each, including catcher Farren Clark with a triple, double and single for three RBI, and second baseman Chyanna Harris and catcher Bridgett Robinson with two doubles and a single and two RBI each and shortstop Kaitlyn Stittums with a double and two singles and two RBI. Savannah Sergent contributed a double, single and a sacrifice fly for three RBI. Destinee Jenkins and Mallory Johnson added one single each.
Jenkins (1-0) was solid on the mound, tossing a three-hitter with six strikeouts and three walks.
“She settled in and threw strikes,” McElyea said. “She let her defense make the plays, and they did a good job overall.”
Leslie County (0-1) also had a new starter on the mound, but sophomore Katie Johnson didn’t fare as well as her Harlan County counterpart.
“We started a girl who had never pitched in a varsity game before, and it seemed like everything they hit in the first inning found a hole,” said Leslie County coach Ryan Nollen. “We got in a hole early and it took us a little while to wake up and start playing.”
Harlan County sent 16 batters to the plate in the first inning, collecting 12 hits. Stittums opened the game with a single and came home on Clark’s triple down the line in left. Sergent singled off Leslie shortstop Marissa Davidson to bring in the second run. Consecutive singles by King and Robinson produced another run before Harris roped a two-run double to left for a 5-0 lead. Harris scored when she stole third and came home on an errant throw. An RBI single by Clark followed by RBI doubles from Sergent, King and Robinson extended the Lady Bears’ advantage to 11-0.
Leslie broke through for two runs in the second inning Morgan Pugh and Jada Estep drew walks and scored on Karley Napier’s two-run single.
The Lady Bears added four more runs in the second inning. Jenkins walked, took second on a wild pitch and scored on Mallory Johnson’s single. Stittums’ suicide squeeze bunt single pushed across another run. Clark followed with an RBI double, then Sergent brought in Stittums with a sacrifice fly to left. King was safe on an error to plate the final run of the inning.
The Lady Bears added a final run in the third inning as Mallory Johnson walked and scored on Stittums’ double.
Leslie scored a run in the fourth inning as Estep and Napier reached base on consecutive errors.
The Harlan County defense was solid except for the back-to-back mistakes in the fourth. The Lady Bears pulled off an unusual double play in the fifth inning after Lindsey Shepherd led off with a triple. King caught a fly ball from Madisyn Combs in right field and gunned down Shepherd at the plate.
Kameron Turner pitched one shutout inning in relief for the Lady Eagles.
“I thought Kameron came in and pitched well,” Nollen said. “We’re young and inexperienced and will go through some growing pains.”
Harlan County returns to action Tuesday at home against Cumberland Gap, Tenn. Leslie County is also back in action Tuesday at Cordia.
Leslie County 020 10 —3 3 4
Harlan County(11)41 0x — 16 16 3
Johnson, Turner (4) and Collett; Jenkins and Robinson. WP — Jenkins (1-0). LP — Johnson.