When they were winning 11 straight games to start the season, the Harlan County Lady Bears played with confidence and intensity.
They appear to have lost both during a stretch in which they haven’t won at home since April, and HCHS coach Tim McElyea spent over a half hour meeting with his team after a 6-5 loss Monday to visiting Leslie County. Harlan County beat the Lady Eagles 7-3 earlier this year in Hyden.
“We came out on fire this year, and we’re still playing well in tournaments, but our home record is awful,” McElyea said. “I tell them they should be proud of this facility. It’s like they play nervous or something.
“I don’t understand where we are mentally. We’re a good team, but the last couple of years we’ve faltered at the end. We need to get back to where we were the first couple of weeks of the season.”
Senior right fielder Morgan Pugh had a big night at the plate for the 24-7 Lady Eagles, driving in two runs with a double and two singles. Lyndsey Shepherd added a double and single. Kailee Mullins singled twice. Kendra Hubbard had a double. Kaley Collett singled.
“It’s a great win for us,” said Leslie County coach Dana Coots. “Harlan County is one of the best teams in the 13th Region, and the 13th Region is always tough.
“Our girls battled the whole game. We had some clutch hits. We knew this game was to get us ready for the district tournament, win or lose.”
Nikki Creech led the Lady Bears with three singles. Farren Clark, Destinee Jenkins and Jessie Johnson singled twice each. Tia King had a triple. Sidney Kelly and Haley Blakley added one single each.
Kameron Turner pitched a complete game, striking out none and walking two as she worked out of several jams with the help of a defense that didn’t make an error.
“Our defense has been strong all year,” Coots said. “I think our defense is one of the best in the 14th Region. Our hitting was good, but we still have some work to do on base running.”
Harlan County wasn’t as strong on defense with three errors, along with a couple of base running mistakes.
Leslie grabbed an early 1-0 lead as Mullins reached base on an error and scored on Pugh’s double.
Clark singled in the second inning and scored on King’s triple. Hannah Johnson followed with an RBI ground out to put Harlan County up 2-1.
Creech led off the third inning with a bunt single and scored on Jenkins’ two-out hit into left field.
Leslie pulled even on consecutive hits by Pugh, Hubbard and Shepherd to open the fourth inning.
The Lady Eagles took the lead in the fifth inning when Mullins led off with a single, moved up on a wild pitch and scored on Pugh’s ground out to third base.
Creech singled to lead off the bottom of the fifth, then stole second and scored on Blakley’s single to center.
Collett singled and Emily Griffith was hit by a pitch to open the sixth inning, which led to Russell replacing Jenkins on the mound for the second time in the game. Russell retired the next two batters before Mullins hit a two-run single to left field for what turned out to be the game’s winning run.
Harlan County threatened in the seventh as Johnson and Creech led off with singles. Blakley’s fielder’s choicer grounder led to an out at third base. Lainey Cox bunted both runners over. Jenkins brought in one run with a grounder to third base and Russell drew a walk before Turner retired Clark on a grounder back to the mound.
Harlan County (22-8) closes its district schedule Tuesday at home against Harlan.
Leslie County 100 212 0 — 6 9 0
Harlan County 021 010 1 — 5 11 3
Turner and Collett; Jenkins, Russell (5), Jenkins (6), Russell (6) and King. WP — Turner. LP — Jenkins (16-7).
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134