When Harlan County was able to scratch out four runs to break a scoreless tie in the third inning of Monday’s 52nd District Tournament game against Harlan, the Black Bears and a large contingent of fans had to feel good about their chances.
With Jared Sizemore on the mound, the Bears haven’t lost in three years when they can score at least three runs. Sizemore made certain four was plenty.
The junior lefthander improved to 7-1 this season and 22-3 over three years of high school and sent the Bears into the district finals for the eighth time in eight years with a 4-2 win over visiting Harlan. Sizemore pitched a four-hitter with 15 strikeouts and three walks.
“Jared did a good job,” Harlan County coach John Lewis said. “He was talking about keeping his pitch count down early in the game, but he ended up with 119 (one short of the maximum allowed in a game). I think it got in his head a little. He wanted to take his time with a couple of them, and it paid off.”
Harlan got one hit each from Hogue, Antonio Roman, Noah Busroe and Andrew Saylor, the top four hitters in the lineup .
Hogue, a senior who pitched his last game with the Dragons, allowed only four hits while striking out nine and walking four.
“We just didn’t hit the ball. We didn’t put the ball in play enough,” Harlan coach Robbie Burns said. “He’s tough to hit, but we’d worked on it and I thought we’d put the ball in play more. We couldn’t get anything done.
“Caleb pitched a good game. We just didn’t score enough runs.”
Harlan County (15-14) was led by junior catcher Brendan Rutherford with a pair of singles. Sizemore and Will Scott added one single each.
The Bears scored all the runs they would need and could get in the third inning. Devin Rodrigues led off with a walk, took second on Dylan Cornett’s sacrifice and scored on Sean Johnson’s ground out to first base. Gage Burkhart was safe on an error and Sizemore singled. Brendan Rutherford singled home the second run.
Two freshmen courtesy runners pushed the lead to 4-0 as Gabe Price scored on a wild pitch and Garry Henson came home on a balk by Hogue when Matthew Simpson broke for second base.
“We started out with a walk to the No. 9 man, then made an error or two, then a wild pitch and balk,” Burns said. “The inning got away from us. We were lucky to get out just giving up four runs.”
Harlan scratched out a run in the fourth inning without the benefit of a hit. Busroe struck out on a breaking pitch in the dirt, but the ball skipped away and Rutherford threw wildly to first to put Busroe on second. Saylor hit a slow grounder to Sean Johnson at shortstop that Johnson threw away, allowing Busroe to score.
The Dragons staged a two-out rally in the fifth inning as Hogue walked, then scored on successive hits by Antonio Roman and Busroe. Roman tried to advance to third on Busroe’s hit but was cut down on a strong throw from Rodrigues.
Harlan threatened in the sixth inning when Saylor and Nick Jarvis led off with walks. Sizemore worked out of the jam by striking out the next three batters.
Harlan County will play Middlesboro on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the district championship game. Middlesboro advanced with a 15-2 rout of Bell County in the opening game Monday.
The Dragons, who finished 17-13, won’t be able to repeat as district champions. Harlan had lost seven straight district tournament openers before knocking off Middlesboro and Harlan County last May.
“This was a real good team. I’m proud of the boys. They worked hard all year,” Burns said. “We’re disappointed. I thought we were ready to take it again, but that’s baseball. God has blessed us with good kids and a good school. God has blessed both teams. Our kids battled.”
The loss marked the final game with Harlan for Hogue, Jarvis and second baseman Sammy Moore.
“Caleb has probably won more games pitching than anyone we’ve had. He was an all-around good player,” Burns said. “Nick was a stone behind the plate. He will be hard to replace.”
Harlan* 000* 110* 0* — 2 4 3
Harlan County* 004* 000* x* — 4 4 2
Hogue and Jarvis; Sizemore and Rutherford. WP — Sizemore (7-1). LP — Hogue (4-6).
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134