Pitching, defense carry Lady Bears past Clay


Chris Jones

Harlan County’s Madison Blair pitched a five-hitter Thursday as the Lady Bears edged visiting Clay County 4-3.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

Finding ways to beat good teams in close games is always one of the keys to postseason success, and the Harlan County Lady Bears did just that Thursday with a 4-3 victory over visiting Clay County. The Lady Tigers came into the game ranked fourth in the 13th Region in the RPI ratings and owned a 2-1 win earlier this season in Manchester, but HCHS gained revenge thanks to a strong game in the circle from Madison Blair and a good defensive effort.
“We lost a close one over there and we wanted some revenge, Last year we couldn’t compete with a team like Clay County,” Harlan County coach Shelby Burton said. “
Blair pitched a second straight complete game without giving up a walk, surrendering five hits while striking out three.
“Madison put the work in during the off-season to get better and get ready for this season. You can see the results,” Burton said. “When we’re hitting, we can compete with anyone in this region.”
Lesleigh Brown, Halanah Shepherd, Halle Raleigh, Aviya Halcomb and Blair each recorded singles against Clay pitcher Bryan Blevins, who struck out seven and walked five.
Madison Sizemore singled twice for the 11-11 Lady Tigers. Emma Tuttle had an RBI triple. Kyiie Frost and Carley Shepherd added singles.
Hailey Austin walked with one out in the first inning and scored the game’s first run on a hit by Brown.
Clay tied the game in the fourth after Blair had retired the first nine batters. Sizemore singled and scored on Tuttle’s two-out triple to right.
Raleigh opened the bottom of the fourth with a perfectly executed bunt hit. Halcomb and Blair followed with hits as Blair drove in the go-ahead run. Wilson’s fielder’s choice grounder to second drove in the second run of the inning. Another run scored when Brown hit into a double play.
Shepherd singled to open the fifth for Clay, then took third when the ball skipped past the outfielder for an error. Kylee Roberts brought in a run with a fielder’s choice grounder to second. Sydney Stewart brought in a run with a grounder to second to cut the deficit to one.
The defensive play of the game happened in the sixth inning when Sizemore found herself at third with no outs. The ball skipped past Burton, who quickly retrieved it and threw to Blair for an out at the plate. Blair retired the final five Lady Tigers with the help of a running catch in right field by Brown with one out in the seventh and a nice play at third by Hailey Austin on a wicked line drive hit by Carlie Wolfe with two outs.
“Maddi and Jade are a 1-2 punch right there. They are totally different this year,” Burton said. “Jade deserves a lot of credit. She has turned into a true competitor.”
While their pitching and defense were good, the Lady Bears’ poor base running could have cost them the game. Burton lost a hit in the third inning when she hit a ball that dropped in front of left fielder Riley Tuttle, who forced out a runner who slowed down approaching second base to avoid sliding. The Lady Bears also continued a troubling habit of not running full speed when a ball is hit with two outs, watching the ball instead of the third base coach.
The 13-10 Lady Bears return to action this weekend in a tournament in Hazard, taking on North Laurel on Friday and Perry Central on Saturday.
Clay County 000 120 0 — 3. 5. 2
Harlan County 100 300 x — 4. 5. 2
Blevins and E. Tuttle; Blair and Burton. WP — Blair (11-8). LP — Blevins.