MIDDLESBORO — Even though the postseason is still a little over two weeks away, Luster Powers wouldn’t complain if the 52nd District Tournament started today.
No team in the 13th Region has been hotter than the Middlesboro Yellow Jackets, who have won nine of 11 games. The Lady Jackets knocked off regional favorite North Laurel in late April, won two of three over the weekend to capture third place in the state All “A” Classic and continued the hot streak with a 6-3 win Thursday over 52nd District rival Harlan County.
“We’re just playing good right now. They believe in themselves,” said Powers, the Middlesboro coach. “Our confidence is way above the roof right now. When you hit it good, it can make up for some mistakes. I think this team can go deep in the region tournament. They believe in themselves and we believe in them. They’re playing good ball right now.”
Middlesboro (18-5 overall, 5-0 district) followed a familiar winning pattern as junior Madison Shields was solid on the mound, striking out four and walking one while scattering five hits, and the Lady Jackets’ offense produced several clutch hits. Lauren Spurlock and Aubrey Sowders each drove in two runs with hits in a four-run third inning that decided the game.
Harlan County (16-5 overall, 3-1 district) gave away five unearned runs with four costly errors, showing the rust of playing its first game in over a week.
“Middlesboro has been hot lately, and we made a couple of errors early that hurt us. You can’t win like that,” Harlan County coach Tim McElyea said. “When it gets cold like this, you can’t make mistakes. We hit it fairly well, but we hit it right at them. Defense was the key today.”
Destinee Jenkins suffered the loss as she gave up six runs on only four hits in four innings. Kacie Rusell allowed one hit in two shutout innings on the mound.
“Russell came in and threw well,” McElyea said. “We might have found out something there. We’ll see them again Tuesday at our place. We have a tournament at Hazard this weekend, and we need to play and get some games in before we play them again.”
Haley Blakley led the HCHS offense with a triple and single. Nikki Creech, Jenkins and Tia King added one single each.
Taylor Moyers had a double and single for the Lady Jackets. Lauren Spurlock contributed a double. Erica Gambrel and Audrey Sowders added singles.
Harlan County grabbed the early lead when Creech singled to right, then took third when the ball skipped away from the outfielder. Jenkins drove in the run with a ground out to shortstop.
Moyers singled and Spurlock was safe on an error with one out in the bottom of the first. Harlan County was one out away from escaping the inning when Gambrel grounded back to the mound, but Russell tried to throw back to third after recording the second out. When the ball sailed wide of Farren Clark at third base, both Middlesboro runners scored.
“They gave us the first two runs, and we’ll take them any time someone gives us runs,” Powers said. “We played pretty good defense and came up with some timely hits.
Blakley tripled over the right fielder’s head in the second inning and scored the tying run on Lainey Cox’s ground out to first base.
Middlesboro pushed across four runs in the third inning with the help of another error. Spurlock doubled home two runs and Sowders singled home two more.
Harlan County scored its final run in the sixth inning as Clark walked, stole second and came home on Jenkins’ single to center.
Harlan County returns to action Friday against Lawrence County in a tournament at Hazard. Middlesboro plays at Clay County on Monday.
Harlan County* 110* 001* 0* — 3 5 4
Middlesboro* 204* 000* — 6 5 1
Jenkins, Russell (5) and King; Shields and Durham, Sowders (2). WP – Shields. LP — Jenkins (12-4).
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134