It’s been almost four years since the Middlesboro Yellow Jackets last won a 52nd District Tournament championship. The Jackets played like they were ready to end the drought Monday in a 15-2 rout of Bell County on Monday in the opening game of the tourney at Harlan County High School.
“We’ve had a few conversations about that in the last couple of weeks,” said Middlesboro coach John Smith of the Jackets’ district title drought. “We still have a lot of young kids on this team with six sophomores, two seniors and a junior on the field. They are hungry. We just want to keep playing hard.”
The Jackets blew the game open early with a 12-run first inning, sending 16 batters to the plate with eight hits, four walks and three errors.
“I liked the aggressiveness at the plate. We were swinging at strikes for once,” Smith said. “It’s been a few weeks since we’ve been aggressive at the plate.”
Matthew Mike threw two hitless innings with three strikeouts and no walks as he started on the mound for the Jackets.
Jacob Spurlock earned the win as he allowed two runs on four hits in three innings, with three strikeouts and no walks.
Tyler McCullough, the Jackets’ standout sophomore shortstop, had a double and single to lead the Middlesboro offense. Matthew Mike added two singles. Daniel Webb, Jacob Mike, Spurlock, Joshua Arnold, Dillion Spade and Hunter Evans added one single each.
Antonio Zachary led Bell County (6-23) with a double. Jordan Wombles, Victor Morris and Issace Muncy had one single each.
The loss ended what just about everyone knew would be a rebuilding year for the Bobcats following massive graduation losses last spring.
“We had some ups and downs this year with young players,” Bell County coach Scott Chaney said. “We played three eighth-graders and a couple of freshmen. We struggled at times but had some good points to build on.
“We had two good seniors (Chase Woolum and Isaac Muncy) who led us all year. We’ll miss them, but I think we can regroup with a bunch of young players who have a year of experience.”
Middlesboro set the tone for the game in the first inning with eight runs on six hits, two walks and two errors. McCullough led off with a shot off the fence in left for a double. Matthew Mike followed with a line drive single through the box for a 1-0 lead. The second run scored on an errant pickoff throw to third base by Jacob Smith. Arnold beat out an infield hit that produced two runs when Jeremiah WIlder’s threw wildly past first base for a 4-0 lead.
The Jackets were even more potent their second time through the order as McCullough singled in two runs, while Matthew Mike, Jacob Mike and Webb added one-run singles for a 10-0 advantage. Another run scored on a wild pitch, and Spurlock followed with an RBI single.
Middlesboro picked up two more runs in the second inning on a walk, hit batsman and error, pushing the lead to 14-0.
Bell scored two runs in the fourth inning, one an RBI single by Morris and another on a botched rundown by the Jackets.
Hits by Spade and Evans produced a final run for the Jackets in the fourth inning.
Middlesboro will play the winner of the Harlan-Harlan County game on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the district finals.
Bell County 000 20 — 2 4 5
Middlesboro (12)20 1x — 15 10 1
Woolum, Jordan Smith (1), Morris (3), Estes (4) and Jacob Smith; M. Mike, Spurlock (3) and J. Mike. WP — Spurlock. LP — Woolum.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134