LOG MOUNTAIN — Harlan County coach Tim McElyea had the look of a man who had just dropped a 500-pound gorilla off his back as his Lady Bears celebrated around him following a 6-2 win Wednesday over Middlesboro in the 52nd District Tournament finals at Bell County.
“They’ve had our number a long time,” said McElyea of a Middlesboro team that beat the Lady Bears three times this season and in last year’s 52nd District Tournament finals. “It was a good win. Our defense came to play, and I think that was the biggest difference.”
Harlan County (25-8) appeared to be in trouble again, trailing 2-0 in the fifth inning when the momentum turned in the Lady Bears on a line drive hit to right-center by Farren Clark. WIth Nikki Creech on first after a single, Clark drilled a rope into the gap that appeared to stay up just long enough for Middlesboro right fielder Taylor Moyers to make the catch. Just as Moyers reached out for the ball while running at full speed, she collided with center fielder Bailey Hensley. Neither Moyers nor Hensley were able to get up after the collision, allowing Creech and Clark both to score on what turned out to be a two-run inside-the-park homer.
“I didn’t see the collision,” McElyea said. “I looked up and Farren was already on me at third base. A play like that had to turn the momentum.”
Middlesboro coach Luster Powers agreed.
“It was big,” he said. “Anything can happen in softball, and that did seem to give them the momentum, but they hit it well. They hit Madison (Shields) hard.”
Shields suffered her first loss after three wins against the Lady Bears, giving up six runs on eight hits in six-plus innings on the mound. Lauren Spurlock gave up two hits in one inning.
Destinee Jenkins earned the win as she gave up both runs on four hits, while striking out five and walking three. Kacie Russell recorded two big outs, ending both the fourth and sixth innings, before Jenkins returned to the mound each time.
“(Assistant coach) Marcus (Johnson) makes the pitching calls and he said he might do that,” McElyea said. “It worked out great. Destinee pitched a great game, but Kacie came in and did the job when we needed her to get us out of a couple jams.”
Creech and Clark ignited the HCHS offense at the top of the order with two hits each. Haley Blakley also added two singles. Destinee Jenkins had a double. Kacie Russell, Hannah Johnson and Jessie Johnson contributed one single each.
Harlan County took over after the collision and a lengthy delay afterwards. Both players were taken to the dugout, but the game was stopped, even after substitutes had been announced. Both players returned to the field before the game resumed.
The Lady Bears took the lead in the sixth inning with three runs. Hannah Johnson walked with one out and Lainey Cox was safe on an error with two outs. Jessie Johnson and Creech each delivered with big two-out hits as Johnson drove in one run and Creech brought home two.
“Jessie and Nikki had huge hits for us,” McElyea said. “We had some big hits, but I think our defense won it for us. I think our tough schedule paid off for us tonight.”
Jenkins led off the seventh inning with a double off the fence in left, marking the end of the night on the mound for Shields. Hannah Johnson’s two-hit off Spurlock’s glove gave the Lady Bears an insurance run.
Middlesboro (20-9) scored both of its runs in the third inning. Sarah Brooks reached base on catcher interference and Laura Durham singled. Spurllock singled home one run, and Erica Gambrell’s ground out to first base brought in the other.
Moyers, Durham, Spurlock and Shields had one hit each for the Lady Jackets.
Both teams advance to the 13th Region Tournament opening Monday at Knox Central.
Harlan County* 000* 023* 1* — 6 10 2
Middlesboro* 002* 000* 0* — 2 4 1
Jenkins, Russell (4), Jenkins (5), Russell (6), Jenkins (7) and King; Shields, Spurlock (7) and Durham. WP — Jenkins. LP — Shields.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134