Bears knock off Clay to build on fast start


Tristan Cooper pitched six strong innings for his second win of the season as Harlan County edged Clay County 3-2 on Friday.

A 3-0 start in the 2023 season was impressive enough for the Harlan County Black Bears, who lost 20 games a year ago.
A 3-2 win Friday over visiting Clay County took the Bears’ fast start to an entirely different level. Clay advanced all the way to the 13th Region semifinals a year ago, downing Harlan County 9-2 in the first round in a victory against HCHS ace Tristan Cooper.
Cooper and the Bears gained some revenge in the rematch at Harlan County as Cooper limited the Tigers to three hits and one earned run over six-plus innings, striking out eight and walking two. Brayden Blakley worked out of.jam in the seventh inning to earn the save as he allowed one hit and a walk while striking out two.
“I’m very proud of these young men. They wanted to play today no matter what,” Harlan County coach Scotty Bailey said. “We had a ton of field work we had to do right before the game because of the rain and getting the tarp off, but they got out there and we got it done. Then they go to battle against one of the top teams in the region. Clay is a very good ball club. I’m very proud of our boys and the grit they had tonight. They went up in the first inning. Last year we would’ve got our heads down pretty quick. This year we’ve already grown up a ton and kept battling. We still got a lot of work to do, but beating a top team in the region is always a good thing for the program.”
Will Cassim and Samuel Henson teamed for four of the Bears’ five hits, while Braydon Burton added one. Cassim and Burton each drove in runs.
Zach Saylor gave Clay an early lead as he singled and scored on an errors as he stole third base.
Ales Creech walked to open the third, then moved up a base when Isaac Kelly walked and Cassim singled before scoring on a passed ball.
Creech and Blakley drew walks again in the third inning and both came home as Cassim and Burton followed with RBI singles.
Clay picked up a run in the sixth inning as Talan Marcum led off with a double and scored on Hayden Crockett’s two-out hit.
Clay threatened in the seventh with two runners on base before Blakley closed the door with his second save.
“Cooper threw a heck of a game tonight. He didn’t let nothing get to him. He worked all off season for this moment and he made it happen. He only walked two tonight and struck out 8,. When he hits his spots he’s tough. He’s getting better each outing on the mound,” Bailey said. “Blakley is thriving in that closing spot. He’s tough on the mound right now. His breaking ball is working really well and his confidence is up. I’m happy for him to see how much he’s enjoying it. Coming in during that position in that type of game takes some guts, and he showed why he’s a leader for us. Striking out two and getting the final three outs is big time.”
Harlan County (4-0) returns to action Saturday at East Ridge.
Clay County 100 001 0 — 2. 4. 0
Harlan County 102 000 x — 3. 5. 3
Hastings, Hillard (4) and Crawford; Cooper, Blakley (7) and Kelly. WP — Cooper (2-0). LP — Hastings. SV — Blakley (2).