For some time, Hazard has been a road block for Middlesboro on their journey to the All “A” Classic state tournament. That streak ended on Wednesday as the Yellow Jackets ran through the barricades in the form of a 2-1 victory over the Bulldogs to earn a trip to the small school state tourney.
“It feels amazing. We’re so happy for these boys,” said Middlesboro coach John Smith. “The last three years it’s been their team as freshmen, sophomores and now juniors. A couple of seniors hung in with us. I’m glad for them to finally get past Hazard.
“It’s been the past four years. It’s something we circle and look forward to every year on the calendar. The guys were focused and fired up, and Tyler (McCullough) pitched a heck of a game. (We) played great defense behind him and got some timely hits when we needed them. It feels amazing. I’m so proud of these guys.”
Tyler McCullough picked up the win as the junior ace threw a complete game. He tallied seven strikeouts and allowed only four hits and one run.
“(I’ve) faced them since I’ve been in eighth grade. I knew that my team was going to come out and play behind me, and if we hit the ball we were going to have a good chance of winning,” said McCullough. “Warming up in the bullpen, I was throwing great. I didn’t think much — as long as I throw strikes and they hit it, we were going to make the outs.”
McCullough also paced Middlesboro at the plate going 2-for-3 with one run. Jacob Mike ended the game with one hit and one RBI. Joshua Arnold and Jacob Spurlock also earned hits during the game.
While Brennan Hale didn’t register an official hit, his sacrifice fly in the fourth inning gave the Jackets the run they needed to take and hold on to the lead.
“I just saw I had a runner on base and I had to do my job for my team,” said Hale about hit game-winning RBI.
Ryan Smith was credited with the loss after pitching 5 2/3 innings. During that stint, he allowed five hits and two runs while also striking out eight batters. Devin Morris closed the game for the Bulldogs.
Andy Baker led Hazard at the plate with one run on one hit. Trajon Campbell, Morris and Rudy Akemon also tallied hits for the Bulldogs.
Hazard got on the board early in the top of the first. Baker reached first on a single before stealing second and reaching third on an error. He scored on the Smith RBI to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead.
Middlesboro responded in the bottom half of the inning. With one out on the board and McCullough on second, Mike hit a RBI double to right field to tie the game at 1-1 at the end of the first.
Hazard moved a runner in scoring position in the second after Morris reached base on an error. He was able to make it to third base before an out at first ended the inning.
The Jackets were able to claim the lead in the fourth. A RBI by Hale scored Spurlock to give Middlesboro the one-run lead. Arnold reached third but was left stranded on base at the end of the inning.
It looked like the Jackets were going to score again in the sixth before a controversial call ended the inning with Arnold stranded on base.
Hazard failed to get a runner on base in the seventh with McCullough striking out two batters and one runner being called out at first.
Middlesboro (10-5) is scheduled to host Harlan County (6-8) at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
Hazard (16-2) will travel to North Laurel (6-11) on Tuesday.
Reach Anthony Cloud at 606-302-9090 or on Twitter @AnthonyCloudMDN