Whether to pitch ace Jared Sizemore on Thursday or Friday in a two-game district series against Middlesboro was the big question facing Harlan County coach John Lewis this week.
As it turned out, it didn’t matter. It’s starting to look as if Clayton Kershaw would have trouble winning for a Harlan County offense that can’t score.
Middlesboro broke a scoreless tie with a four-run fifth inning on the way to a 9-0 win Thursday at Harlan County.
Harlan County (7-10) has scored only 60 runs through 17 games, the third-worst production for any team in the 13th Region. The Bears could not come up with any clutch hits on Thursday after getting the leadoff runner on base in each of the first four innings.
“We’re practice hitters. We feel if we hit it in practice we’re going to hit in a game and it just don’t happen,” Harlan County coach John Lewis said. “A lack of focus at the plate is killing us. We didn’t execute, but we do it in practice. We bunt the fire out of it in practice. That doesn’t count. We have practice players. They have to be able to execute at the plate.”
Middlesboro (11-6) won despite ace Tyler McCullough being unable to pitch until Friday due to his outing Monday against Hazard in the All “A” Classic sectional.
Senior right-hander Matthew Mike was the model of efficiency for the Jackets as he scattered five hits while striking out eight and walking two. He threw only 57 pitches through six innings and finished the game with only 83 pitches as the Bears made it easy at times with one-pitch at bats.
“He just threw strikes like we ask of all our pitchers,” Middlesboro coach John Smith said. “He did an outstanding job.”
Caleb Carmical started on the mound for the Bears with Sizemore scheduled to match up with McCullough on Friday. Carmical held the Jackets scoreless through four innings, but he suffered the loss as he was charged with two runs on three hits in four-plus innings, with five strikeouts, two walks and four hit batsmen. Brendan Rutherford allowed two runs on two hits in one inning. Benjamin Lewis allowed five runs on five hits in two innings.
“Caleb did a good job tonight,” Lewis said. “We just didn’t execute at the plate.”
Dylan Cornett had two of the Bears’ five hits. Gage Burkhart, Cameron Nease and Gabe Price added one each.
Jacob Mike led Middlesboro with a double and two singles. Daniel Well contributed a double and single. Logan Capps had two singles. Matthew Mike added a three-run double. Van Ball and Jacob Spurlock had one single each.
Middlesboro finally broke through in the fifth inning, scoring four runs. Carmical hit Capps to open the inning, his fourth hit batsman of the game. Rutherford then came in from behind the plate to pitch, loading the bases by walking Matthew Mike and giving up a bunt single to Jacob Mike. A walk to Chase Elliott forced in a run, and another scored on when Cornett threw the ball wildly to the plate on a grounder hit by Brad Short. Ball gave the Jackets some breathing room when he ripped a two-run pinch-hit single to right.
“Both teams had chances to score early,” Smith said. “We had a suicide squeeze on and Ball fouled it off, but he worked a couple of pitches and hit a line drive over the infield. I think that sort of busted things open for us late in the game.”
Capps singled to lead off the fifth inning and scored on a hit by Jacob Mike for another insurance run.
A three-run double by Matthew Mike cleared the bases in the seventh inning after Jacob Spurlock had singles and McCullough and Capps walked against Lewis, the third HCHS pitcher. Jacob Mike followed with an RBI double for the Jackets’ ninth run.
The two teams meet again Friday at Middlesboro.
Middlesboro* 000* 041* 4* — 9 10 2
Harlan County* 000 000* 0* — 0 5 3
M. Mike and J. Mike; Carmical, Rutherford (5), Lewis (6) and Rutherford, Casolari (5), Rutherford (6). WP — M. Mike. LP — Carmical (0-3).
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134