The Middlesboro Yellow Jackets dropped a 10-6 decision to Williamsburg in eight innings on Tuesday in the first round of the 13th Region All “A” Classic.
Though the loss was disappointing, it’s encouraging to see the team be so competitive after losing ten seniors to graduation last year and bringing back just three players with any varsity experience.
“We’re in the rebuilding process but overall I’m pleased with what I’m seeing, especially with the way we’re swinging the bats,” MHS head coach John Smith said. “The pitching will come along. It’s hard to throw in this cold weather. I know we’re going to get better.”
Williamsburg scored three runs in the top of the fifth inning to tie the game at six and then put up four runs in the eighth to pull out the victory.
Sydney Bowen lined a one-out double just inside the third base line to start the game-winning rally. The Jackets chose to intentionally walk the next two batters to load the bases and keep the possibility of an inning-ending double play alive.
Collier Elkins got two strikes on Clay Kyser and came a hair from striking him out on a 2-2 pitch that was ruled just low. His next pitch missed outside to force in the go-ahead run. Donavan Fields lined a two-run single over short and Casey Kysar added an RBI fielder’s choice grounder to make it 10-6.
“I thought our pitchers did OK for the most part. We got behind in some counts and had to throw fastballs up there. We’ve got to do a better job of getting ahead in the count,” Smith said.
Cameron Bowen earned the win for Williamsburg. The senior came on in relief to start the sixth inning and struck out nine over 2-2/3 innings while allowing just a walk. Clay Kysar got the final out in the bottom of the eighth to close out the game.
Middlesboro jumped out to 3-1 lead in the bottom of the first. Elkins led off with a single and Tyshawn Simpson was hit by a pitch. After a Braden Ausmus sac fly moved Elkins to third, Simpson stole second and senior Chris Callihan blasted a two-run double to left center. Lane Perry walked and Callihan came around to score as Shawn North reached on a fielder’s choice grounder.
Williamsburg tied the game at three in the third on as Hunter Brown had an RBI double and Fields added an RBI single.
The Jackets went back out in front with three runs in their half of the inning. North and Hagen Owens opened the frame with singles and advanced on a sac bunt by Jeremiah Wilder. Freshman Tyler Harris followed with a two-run triple and then scored on a base hit by Elkins to make it 6-3.
Middlesboro starter Stephen Justice went 4-1/3 innings and struck out three. He left with the 6-3 lead but the bases were loaded with one out in the fifth. Connor Winterberger took over and gave up a sinking liner to left off the bat of Mason Manning. Harris couldn’t quite make the shoestring catch and the ball got past him and went to fence as two runs scored. Sydney Bowen added a sac fly to center to tie the game at six.
“That was kind of a back-breaker. (Harris) waited until the last minute to make a decision on whether to dive and catch it or play off his shoelaces. It got by him and that sort opened the flood gates for them,” Smith said. “They brought their ace in after that and he throws it well. Going from softer to hard late in the game like that, it’s hard to catch up.”
The only baserunners Middlesboro would get the rest of the way were Simpson on a walk and Callihan, who reached after striking out on a passed ball.
Elkins and Owens had two hits each for the Jackets and both scored runs with Elkins driving in one. Harris had the two-run triple and Callihan the two-run double with both coming around to score. North had an RBI ground out, a single and a run scored. Wilder singled and had a sacrifice bunt and Simpson walked and was hit by a pitch, stole two bases and scored a run.
“When we make good pitch selections at the plate, especially in hitters’ counts, we’ve put the bat on it the last two ballgames. We’ve got a few young guys on the field and a lot of juniors and seniors that have been watching the last couple of years,” Smith added. “But we’re coming along. We had a couple of dry innings and we can’t do that and let them get back in the ballgame. Once we get a lead, we have to keep adding on.”
Middlesboro (1-2) is scheduled to play at Cumberland Gap on Friday and against Claiborne at home on Saturday at noon before heading out on their Spring Break trip to Myrtle Beach.