A strong pitching performance is not unexpected for the Harlan County Black Black Bears when junior lefthander Jared Sizemore is on the mound.
Big nights at the plate Tuesday by several Bears fell more under the pleasant surprise category as Harlan County coasted to an 11-1 six-inning win over visiting Union, Va.
“We shuffled everything around. We had a whole new lineup with two or three new starters,” Harlan County coach John Lewis said. “I’m tickled with the way we were swinging the bats. We responded with the bats tonight against a good team.”
The Bears, from Big Stone Gap, entered the game with a 4-0 record, including a 10-run win a night earlier over J.I. Burton, a team that beat HCHS 8-3 earlier in the season.
Sizemore was dominant, as usual, as he pitched a two-hitter with 12 strikeouts and two walks in the complete-game effort. HCHS was clinging to a 2-1 lead going into the fifth inning before the Black Bears’ bats came alive, producing three runs in the fifth and six in the sixth to end the game via the 10-run mercy rule.
Junior left fielder Hunter Nease had the biggest game of his high school career with three hits and a walk in four trips to the plate. Gage Burkhart added a double and single, driving in a run with each hit. Caleb Carmical, Dylan Cornett and Brendan Rutherford contributed two singles each. Sizemore had one single.
“Jared did well, and we responded with the bats,” Lewis said. “We bunted the ball well and hit it up the middle.”
Harlan County finally broke through in the third inning after leaving runners stranded in scoring position the first two innings. Devin Rodrigues walked with one out, stole second and scored on Burkhart’s two-out hit to right field.
Rutherford had a clutch two-out hit in the third inning, driving home Nease, who had walked.
Sizemore had faced the minimum 12 hitters through four innings, walking Zack Cornett to open the third inning before picking him off, but Union pushed across a run in the fifth as Braxton Hubbard led off with a walk and Zack James doubled when Carmical was unable to make a sliding catch in right field. Justin Clark reached base on an error to cut the HCHS lead to 2-1. With runners on second and third, Sizemore struck out the next three hitters to end the threat and preserve the lead.
Harlan County loaded the bases with one out in the sixth inning when Nease executed a suicide squeeze with a hit down the third-base line. Cornett also added an RBI single as the lead grew to 5-1.
The Bears ended the game with six runs in the sixth inning. Sizemore singled with one out, and courtesy runner Garry Henson stole second and scored on Burkhart’s double to the fence in right. Nease followed with an RBI single. After Benjamin Lewis walked, Cornett ripped a two-run single up the middle, and another run scored when the ball bounced away from the Union center fielder. Rutherford ended the game with his RBI single into right field.
Harlan County (5-7) travels to Barbourville on Thursday.
Union, Va.* 000* 010* — 1 2 4
Harlan County* 001* 136* — 11 12 2
Cox, Brock (4), Bunch (5) and Bishop; Sizemore and Rutherford. WP — Sizemore (2-0). LP — Cox.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134