Bears overcome early deficit to knock off Bell, advance to 52nd District finals


Jon Dickenson

Harlan County’s Jonah Swanner had two hits and made the defensive play of the game in throwing out a Bell County runner at the plate in the Bears’ 6-3 victory on Monday in the first round of the 52nd District Tournament.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

MIDDLESBORO — Entering the 52nd District Tournament as the top seed after almost a decade between championships required something of an adjustment for the Harlan County Black Bears as they trailed Bell County 2-0 midway through the third inning on Monday at Middlesboro High School.
Harlan County entered the tournament with a 6-0 district mark while Bell brought an 0-6 district record, but Bell was up 2-0 after Blake Burnett, Holden Clark, Austin Goodin and Cooper Brock each collected hits in the opening inning.
Burnett, Bell’s starting pitcher, struck out six over the first three innings before the Bears’ offense finally came alive with a two-out hit from Jonah Swanner, his second of the game. Junior first baseman Will Cassim turned on a hanging curve and sent it over the fence in left to tie the game and take some pressure off the HCHS offense,
“It’s the district tournament, so it’s survive and advance. The pressure was on us a little bit. I thought we were a little starstruck early in the game, Harlan County coach Scotty Bailey said. “They had a couple of freshmen who threw the ball well. Will hit a big home run, and we kind of settled down. We continued to fight after we got down, and I’m proud of them for that.”
Brayden Blakley walked In the fourth inning, then ended up on third when he stole second and the ball was thrown into center field by Bell catcher Alex Creech. Samuel Henson then popped a bunt over Burnett to push the lead to 3-1.
Isaac Kelly walked to open the fifth inning, then stole second and came all the way around to score after another errant throw. Creech added an RBI double with two outs to bring home Swanner, who was hit by a pitch.
Henson was hit by a pitch in the sixth inning and scored the Bears’ final after a wild pitch.
Bell threatened in the seventh inning, loading the bases with one out as Jackson Walters and Goodin each had singles sandwiched around a walk to Clark. Brock ripped a single up the middle for one run, but Swanner came up throwing and cut down Clark at the plate for the second out.
“Jonah is just an athlete and that was a huge play,” Bailey said. “We work on that play in practice, and he executed it perfectly.”
Creech struck out Joseph Brigmon to end the game, finishing off an eight-hitter with eight strikeouts and three walks for his fifth win of the season.
“I thought Alex threw.a great game and didn’t give them anything after the first inning. This was his first district tournament game as a pitcher, so he might have been a little tight early,’ Bailey said.
Bell County coach Clay Carroll was pleased how his young squad battled to the end. The Bobcats fell to 4-25 on the season.
“We have one senior and one junior and start five freshmen and an eighth grader, so I was really proud of how they battled,” Bell County coach Clay Carroll said. “We’re so young and it felt like we hadn’t put a game together until today. They just battled all the way. We had two freshmen pitching and an eighth-grader behind the plate. This is something we can build on as we get ready for nest season.”
The 17-11 Bears will play Middlesboro on Tuesday at 6 p.m. for the district championship. Middlesboro advanced with a 6-3 win over Harlan in last night’s second game.
Bell County 200 000 1 — 3. 8. 6
Harlan County 002 121 x — 6. 6. 1
Burnett, Brock (5) and Creech; Creech and Kelly. WP — Creech (5-3). LP — Burnett. HR — Cassim (1).