HYDEN — After seeing his Harlan County Lady Bears strand eight base runners through the first three innings Thursday at Leslie County, coach Tim McElyea decided it was time to try something a little different.
Harlan County had made a habit of bludgeoning its opponents in a 7-0 start that had seen the Lady Bears score at least 10 runs in every game. Down 3-0 going into the fourth inning, Harlan County had struggled to come up with clutch hits before finally breaking through on the way to a 7-3 win.
“I was talking to our coaches in the dugout and I said we’d been wearing it out, but now we’ve left eight on base, so I’m going to start small-balling it. I thought the percentages might be catching up with us a little,” McElyea said. “We ran a squeeze and then started bunting it a little bit. I was trying to find something to get us going.”
The game was the closest of the season for the Lady Bears, who had not trailed that late in their previous seven.
“This was good for us,” McElyea. “Leslie County is a good fundamental team. Defensively, they are tough, and their pitchers threw strikes.”
Harlan County (8-0) had another big game at the plate despite the problems with runners on base. The Lady Bears collected 19 hits, led by pitcher Destinee Jenkins with two doubles and two singles in five at bats. Farren Clark added a double and two singles. Hannah Johnson, Nikki Creech and Tia King contributed three singles each. Kacie Russell had a double, single and sacrifice fly. Haley Blakley and Jessie Johnson each singled once.
Leslie County (7-4) was led by Kendra Hubbard with a homer and single. Kaley Collett added a double and single along with playing a tremendous game behind the plate, recording three outs while also throwing out two base runners. Lyndsey Shepherd had a double. Jada Estep, Kailee Mullins, Emily Griffith and Kameron Turner added one single each.
Jenkins struck out five and walked none as she pitched a complete game to win for the sixth time in six decisions.
“Des got a little tired at the end, but she pitched well overall,” McElyea said. “She had good pop today and had a good changeup and located well.”
The Lady Bears left the bases loaded in the first two innings as Leslie took a 1-0 lead when Hubbard led off the second inning with a single and scored on a wild pitch.
Johnson and Clark led off the fourth inning with singles, and Jenkins broke the Lady Bears’ scoreless streak when she ripped a double down the left-field line for two runs. Russell followed with a sacrifice fly for a 3-1 lead.
Creech and Jenkins opened the sixth inning with singles to knock Katie Johnson out of the game. Russell greeted Kameron Turner with an RBI double. King and Blakley followed with RBI singles.
Harlan County added an insurance run in the seventh inning on King’s RBI ground out after the Lady Bears loaded the bases again on hits by Creech and Jenkins and a walk by Russell.
Leslie made it interesting in the bottom of the seventh. Hubbard led off with a solo blast to center. With one out, Collett doubled and Griffith and Turner followed with singles. Leslie had two on with one out when shortstop Jessie Johnson went airborne to grab a liner hit by Jada Estep before turning it into a double play with a throw to Russell at first.
Harlan County plays host to Claiborne, Tenn., on April 6. The Lady Eagles return to action this weekend with a tournament at Breathitt County.
Harlan County* 000* 303* 1* — 7 19 2
Leslie County* 010* 000* 2* — 3 9 0
Jenkins and King; Johnson, Turner (6) and Collett. WP — Jenkins (6-0). LP — Johnson.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134