BARBOURVILLE — A senior left fielder who bats ninth in the order, Kashia Jackson may not be the first player who comes to mind when the Clay County Lady Tigers are mentioned.
She will, however, be the player the Harlan County Lady Bears think of when they look back on the end of their 2016 season.
Jackson kept the Lady Tigers alive in the 13th Region Tournament with a double and two singles, two RBIs, two runs scored and one memorable throw in Clay’s 6-2 eight-inning win Monday at Knox Central High School.
Clay County (31-3) didn’t take its first lead until scoring four runs in the eighth inning and held HCHS off the scoreboard in the sixth and seventh innings with a strong defensive effort. The Lady Tigers turned three double plays in the game and had no errors.
“Our defense has played very solid all year. We came up with some plays,” said Clay County coach Jamie Gilbert. “Kashia made a big throw, and we also had a couple of other double plays.”
Harlan County (25-9) built an early lead as Nikki Creech led off the game with a walk and Farren Clark drilled the first pitch she saw from Brianda Owens over the fence in left field for a 2-0 lead that the Lady Bears kept until the fifth inning. Owens, who pitched 15 shutouts during the season and gave up only one run seven other times, scattered seven hits over eight innings, with five strikeouts and one walk.
“She’s a heck of a pitcher for a freshman,” Gilbert said. “She made one mistake with a pitch, and it ended up in London, but she does a great job. She also has a good defense behind her.”
The score remained 2-0 until the fifth when Emma Hurd walked to open the inning and Jackson doubled to deep center on a shot that Nikki Creech almost ran down before hitting the fence. Alex Smith’s sacrifice fly cut the HCHS lead in half, and Tracy Hubbard tied the game with a ground ball to second base.
HCHS could have reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the sixth inning as Jessie Johnson led off with a single and Clark and Destinee Jenkins followed with one-out hits to load the bases. Kacie Russell hit a line drive to left that appeared would put HCHS ahead, but Johnson broke toward the plate when Russell made contact then had to double back to tag up. Jackson’s throw from left field beat Johnson to the plate by a step for the Lady Tigers’ third double play.
HCHS had two runners on with one out in the seventh inning, but Owens struck out Lainey Cox and Jessie Johnson to end the threat.
After Destinee Jenkins gave up two runs in the fifth inning, Kacie Russell took over on the mound and held Clay scoreless over the next 2 1/3 innings. Jenkins returned to the mound in the eighth inning and the Clay offense finally came alive. Lauren Smith and Maddie Frazier opened with singles. Owens was safe when Hannah Johnson misplayed her grounder at second base, bringing in a run. Shelby Phillips’ bunt single loaded the bases, and Rachel Baker’s ground out to second brought in another run. Russell returned to the mound and gave up a two-out, two-run single to Jackson. Hits by Alex Smith and Hubbard loaded the bases again before Jenkins caught a pop up by Smith to finally end the four-run inning.
“It’s the little things — sliding, base running, tagging up, bunts,” Harlan County coach Tim McElyea said. “We had our chances. We played great defense. It comes down to catching and throwing, the simple things.”
Clark and Jenkins each had two hits to lead HCHS. Hannah Johnson, Haley Blakley and Jessie Johnson added one hit each.
Jackson led Clay County with three hits. Smith, Hubbard, Smith and Shelby Phillips had two hits each. Maddie Frazier and Baker added one hit each.
The Lady Bears fell in the first round of the regional for the second straight year but will be among the favorites in the 13th Region next year with seven starters returning.
“Our girls fought like crazy, and we were there against a quality arm,” McElyea said. “We will miss our seniors — Clark and (Tia) King and Sidney (Kelly), Brandi (Simpson) and Erin (Cornett), but we’ll have the nucleus of our team returning.”
Clay County will play South Laurel and North Laurel will take on Williamsburg in the semifinals on Tuesday. The championship game is set for Wednesday.
Clay County* 000* 020* 04* — 6 13 0
Harlan County* 200* 000* 00* — 2 7 1
Owens and Smith; Jenkins, Russell (5), Jenkins (8), Rusell (8) and King. WP — Owens. LP — Jenkins (). HR – Clark (3).
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134