Austin Miller may not realize it yet, but some day he will be the answer to a trivia question as the first Harlan pitcher to beat the Harlan County Black Bears in baseball.
Miller does know he couldn’t have picked a better time to pitch the game of his life, and the smile on his face told the story after the Dragons finished off a 1-0 win over Harlan County on Monday that will undoubtedly turn heads of baseball observers around eastern Kentucky. It was the first win for Harlan in 13 meetings against the Bears.
“I had a goal since the beginning of the season to beat them one time as a high school baseball player,” Miller said. “I came out with a positive attitude and accomplished that goal. We’ve only beat them once, so it’s big.”
Miller and Harlan coach Robbie Burns had a plan going into the game, knowing the Bears were coming off a weekend trip to Richmond that saw them face hard throwers from Lafayette and Madison Central. Miller executed the plan perfectly as Harlan County hitters were coming out of the shoes for pop ups in the early innings, refusing to work the count or give base runners a chance to steal. The Harlan defense took over in the middle inning as the Bears began to adjust, making play after play to preserve the shutout.
“We had them off stride,” Harlan coach Robbie Burns said. “We did exactly what we planned to do today. He just kept throwing it and hitting his spots, and the defense played great.”
“I know I’m not the fastest pitcher, and they are used to fast pitching,” Miller said.
Miller struck out two and walked four and benefited from Harlan’s best defensive effort of the season as the Dragons made no errors. Caleb Hogue recorded five outs at shortstop and Tye Patrick had four at third base. Noah Busroe had five putouts in center field and Cory Chorak had three in right, including a diving grab of a liner hit by Brendan Rutherford to open the seventh inning, taking away a double.
“My teammates were a big part of the win tonight — Tye Patrick at third base, Noah Busroe in center, Cory Chorak in right, Caleb Hogue at short — they all played well behind me,” Miller said.
Harlan County put together its best threat in the fifth inning as Blake Rutherford broke up the no-hitter with a two-out single and Scotty Bailey followed with a walk. With runners on second and third, Sawyer Fields laid down a bunt that Patrick scooped up just in time to make the throw to first and save a run.
Harlan needed only one run, capitalizing on the only error of the game to score. Hogue hit a ball in the hole to the left of shortstop Scotty Bailey, who had to hurry his throw and bounced it past first baseman Connor Leisge. Chorak followed with Harlan’s only hit, a single to left that moved Hogue to third base with one out. Ben Abraham, Harlan’s junior second baseman, lined a sacrifice fly to right to bring home Hogue.
Tyler Cornett, a senior righthander, was the hard-luck loser for Harlan County as he gave up one unearned run on one hit with five strikeouts and two walks.
It was the first district win of the season for Harlan (12-8 overall, 1-4 district) and the first district loss for Harlan County (13-8 overall, 4-1 district). The two teams meet again Tuesday at 5 at Harlan County and will meet in the opening round of the 52nd District Tournament next month at Middlesboro.
This is the first time we’ve beat Harlan County, but we’ve worked for this for four years,” Burns said. “It’s a big win for the school. A win’s a win to me, but I’m happy for the boys. John (Lewis) runs a good program. I was proud of our guys. It’s a big win for them.”
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Cornett and Brendan Rutherford; Miller and Saylor. WP — Miller (3-2). LP — Cornett (3-3).