Jackets defeat Harlan to earn spot in 52nd District finals


Danny Vaughn

Middlesboro’s Conner Winterberger celebrated after his sixth-inning home run Monday put the Jackets ahead to stay in their 6-3 win over Harlan.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

Conner Winterberger and Brady Carroll each hit home runs as Middlesboro stayed alive for its seventh straight 52nd District title with a 6-3 win Monday over visiting Harlan in the 52nd District Tournament.
The game was tied at 2-2 before the Jackets broke through against Harlan ace Baylor Varner for a four-run sixth inning as Winterberger drove in a run with his third hit of the night before Carrroll followed with a three-run blast that proved to be the difference in the game,
“Winterberger has hit it all year for us. He’s hit opposite field home runs and has pulled a few,” Middlesboro coach John Smith said. “Carroll also came through for us both on the mound and at the plate. We got some clutch hits at key times
“It’s not the way we wanted our season to end, but it was a good game by both teams tonight. It’s always tough to lose a district game, even tougher to lose in the district tournament,” Harlan coach Lee Freyer said. “Coach (John) Smith has a good team. It seems like he always does. Winterberger is a heckuva baseball player. He was really dialed in tonight.”
Carroll, a senior right-hander, struck out six sand walked two while giving up three runs on six hits over six-plus innings. Kameron Wilson worked out of trouble in the seventh inning for the save as he struck out one and walked one.
Varner gave up six runs on six hits over 5 2/3 innings, striking out 12 and walking two. Luke Luttrell struck out the only batter he faced in relief.
“Baylor did a terrific job on the mound for us. He struck out 12,” Freyer said. “Any time he’s on the bump he gives you all he’s got. I was really proud of his effort and determination, not only tonight but all season. Jared (Moore) hit the ball well tonight. He’s really been working hard on his hitting all year. He found some good barrels tonight.”
Winterberger carried the Middlesboro offense with a homer, double and single in three at bats. Carroll had a homer and single. Connor Mason added a triple.
“Winterberger has hit it all year for us. He’s hit opposite field home runs and has pulled a few,” Smith said. “Carroll also came through for us both on the mound and at the plate. We got some clutch hits at key times.
Jared Moore led the 13-14 Dragons with two RBI singles. Aiden Johnson had an RBI double. Jaedyn Gist, Varner, Brody Owens and Luke Luttrell added singles.
“It’s hard to swallow losses like this when you look at numbers. We out hit Middlesboro, struck more of their batters out, but come up short,” Freyer said. “It seems like every time they needed a timely hit they got one. We left too many runners on. We left seven on, Middlesboro left two. It’s been a common narrative I’ve noticed all year. I think that’s the biggest area I have noticed our youth shows itself. It’s not been the fielding, pitching or overall baseball knowledge. It’s been the comfort level with guys on base, the physical strength to drive those guys in. The majority of our starting lineup was swinging lighter bats that are way hotter than the BBCOR bats that are required in high school. The line drive in the gap is now a fly ball. The missile down the line is now a ground ball. But man these kids fight and give you all they have.”
Freyer also noted the Dragons, who finished 13-14, would miss their two seniors.
“Jae’dyn (Gist) ran the bases well. He led us with two stolen bags tonight. He had 32 on the year for us. His speed is really going to be missed along with his leadership,” he said. “Cameren Maples, our other senior, made some really nice defensive stops in the outfield tonight. He’s an energy guy, too. He always keeps everyone up. Plays the game as hard as he can, and plays the right way. He has truly been a joy to coach. Kids like Cameren Maples are the reason you stay in coaching. He’s one of the good ones for sure.”
Middlesboro (15-10) will play Harlan County on Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the district finals.
Harlan 101 000 1 — 3. 7 2
Middlesboro 010 104 x — 6. 6. 1
Varner, Luttrell (6) and Owens; Carroll, Wilson (7) and Colt Bayless. WP — Carroll. LP — Varner (3-5), SV — Wilson. HR — Winterberger, Carroll.