Young helps Middlesboro end Harlan County’s district stranglehold

By John Henson, Managing Editor

Tired of playing second fiddle to four-time defending 52nd District Tournament champ Harlan County, the Middlesboro Lady Jackets and junior shortstop Jamara Young did something about it Wednesday at Harlan.
Young led Middlesboro’s 16-hit attack with a five-for-five night that was among the best in tournament history and included five RBI on two homers, two doubles and a single.
“We try to work on her staying back and tonight she did that and hit it very well,” Middlesboro coach Petie Gibert said
“If you make a mistake on Young, she has great plate coverage and she will kill it,” Harlan County coach Tim McElyea said. “Kerrigan (Creech) was missing spots tonight and when you do that against good hitters then good hitters win. We played nervous tonight as a team, but Middlesboro has a good pitcher and several good hitters. They just wore the ball out tonight. It was their time. Hats off to them.”
The victory was especially sweet for the Lady Jackets, who hadn’t won a district title since 2015 and had lost to Harlan County in the 2016, 2017 and 2018 finals.
“It feels good to be back. The girls worked hard to get there,” Gilbert said.
Freshman Makenzie Miller also hit a home run for Middlesboro (15-19). Megan Gent had three singles. Lindsey Buis had a double and single. Kayla Lawson added a triple. J.J. Brown, Virginia Marcum and Macy Bruce contributed one single each.
“We hit the ball well today, and that’s what we’ve been looking for all year,” Gilbert said.
Harlan County set the tone for the game on defense in the first inning as the first two hitters, Young and Gent, dropped singles in front of HCHS outfielders who were unable to field the ball and allowed the Lady Jackets to take extra bases on errors.
“Our outfield has been fairly strong, so I don’t know what was wrong,” McElyea said. “I told them the ball would skip on the wet grass. They let the ball play them.”
Miller followed with a home run as the Lady Jackets took a 3-0 lead after one inning. The Lady Jackets sent 11 hitters to the plate in the second inning as the lead grew to 10-0.
Harlan County (13-9) was limited to three singles — one each by Allee Galloway, Brenna Early and Kerrigan Creech — as Miller struck out three and walked none
Harlan County had two players test positive for covid the last week of the regular season and had to suspend activities for seven days, returning to the field on Monday for the first round of the district tournament.
“Our timing was off at the plate. We were rusty, but no excuses. Middlesboro had a better team,” McElyea said. “The week off for covid didn’t help us any. It shut us down for seven days. We lost last season with the best team I ever had, then we got a late start this year and then we miss a week when you think it’s over. Covid has not been kind to us. I will never forget what it did to us the last two years.”
Both teams advance to the 13th Region Tournament opening Saturday at Harlan County High School.
Harlan County 000 400 — 4. 3. 5
Middlesboro 371 201 — 14. 16. 2
Creecj and Adams; Miller and Marcum. WP — Miller. LP — Creech (12-8).