Middlesboro’s dream of a regional championship was cut short on Tuesday as the Jackets lost to Knox Central 3-2 in 10 innings. The game was tied at 1-1 through nine innings before an RBI single from Jacob Spurlock in the top of the 10th gave Middlesboro a 2-1 lead.
An RBI double from Evan Lay tied the game at 2-2 before Jaxon Stewart hit the walk-off RBI single to clinch the game for Knox Central.
“These close games, they’re always fun to be in. It could have been broke open by any team in any inning,” said Middlesboro coach John Smith. “Both teams left runners on base it seemed like every inning. Anything could have happened at any point and broke this game open. Both teams played hard and fought for 10 innings.”
Matthew Mike carried the load for Middlesboro on the mound through 9 1/3 innings. The senior pitcher allowed only five hits and one run while striking out nine batters. He was pulled in the 10th inning after reaching the pitching limit.
“The last two days he’s put us on his back — last night through two innings, and tonight he pitched his guts out for his teammates,” said Smith about Mike. “He did a wonderful job. You can’t say enough about what he’s meant to this team especially over the last two nights. He threw a remarkable ball game here tonight.”
Spurlock closed the game for Middlesboro and was credited with the loss. Through 2/3 innings, he allowed two hits, one walk and two runs.
At the plate, Chase Elliott and Tyler McCullough were the only Jackets to tally multiple hits. Elliott finished the game 2-for-5 with an RBI and a run, while McCullough went 2-for-4 with a run. Spurlock finished the game 1-for-5 with one RBI.
Lay picked up the win for Knox Central after allowing four hits and one run through three innings. He struck out five batters in his time on the mound.
Lay was also potent at the plate. He went 3-for-5 with one run and one RBI. Stewart finished the game 2-for-5 with one run and an RBI. Jacob Collins also scored a run on one hit.
Middlesboro jumped out on top in the first inning. An RBI single from Elliott scored Mike to give the Jackets a 1-0 lead.
The Panthers responded in the second inning. With one out, Jacob Engle hit a run-scoring double to right field to tie the game at 1-1.
Middlesboro had an opportunity to put runs on the board in the third. With one out and bases loaded, Mike was forced out at home on a hit by Spurlock. The Panthers ended the inning with an unassisted out at first base to keep the game tied.
Knox Central found themselves in a similar situation in the fourth. With two outs and runners at the corners, Trevor Sanborn was thrown out at first to keep the score knotted up.
The Jackets were able to grab the lead in the top of the 10th. After reaching first on a fielder’s choice, Elliott scored on an RBI single from Spurlock to give Middlesboro a 2-1 lead.
The Jackets couldn’t hold the momentum as the Panthers responded with two runs in the home half of the 10th to secure the victory.
“The last two or three weeks, something has clicked with them (Middlesboro). We don’t know what it is, but they’ve come together more as a team. There is no die in them, no quit in them,” said Smith. “I couldn’t be more proud of a group of young men. Even the guys on the bench, they come in and pinch run when they’re expected to.”
“They come in lay down a bunt when they’re needed to. They stay up in the dugout, stay behind their teammates. All 20 of them, I couldn’t be more proud of a group of guys.”
Middlesboro will lose four seniors this year — Matthew Mike, Van Ball, Stephen Vaughn, and Daniel Webb.
“When this coaching staff came in, that was our first group of freshmen. You can’t say enough about them. They’ve all worked their butts off in the winter, been in the weight room, cages, throwing. Whatever we ask of them they do it,” said Smith about his seniors. “They’re the backbone of this team. We love all four of them. They’re all great kids, and they’re going to do great in life.”
Reach Anthony Cloud at 606-302-9090 or on Twitter @AnthonyCloudMDN