County teams fall in first round of district softball tourney

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Danny Vaughn

Bell County’s Mataya Ausmus was congratulated by teammates at home plate after her three-run homer in the fifth inning put the Lady Cats ahead to stay in a 13-4 win over Harlan County. Ausmus was the winning pitcher and finished with three hits and five RBI.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

For the first time since 2007 and only the second time this century, no Harlan County softball teams will be playing in the 13th Region Tournament.

Bell County knocked off Harlan County 13-4 and Middlesboro edged Harlan 9-8 in semifinal games Tuesday at Middlesboro High School.

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Bell County lost twice to Harlan County in the regular season, including a 12-1 blowout at Bell on April 11, but knocked off the Lady Bears in the tournament opener, thanks in large part to a huge game from junior pitcher Mataya Ausmus, who drove in five runs on a home run and two singles while pitching a complete game.

The Lady Cats grabbed a 3-0 lead in the first inning, but HCHS fought back with two runs in the second inning and two in the fourth to take the lead. Ausmus’ three-run blast over the fence in left put Bell ahead to stay.

“We jumped out early, then they took the lead and I thought here we go because we’ve been there several times. Things seem to fall apart on us,” Bell County coach David Teague said. “When Taya hit that home run, it seemed to give our momentum back, then we had that big inning. I’m very proud of them.”

“Shout out to Bell County. I think coach Teague has done a great job with them,” Harlan County coach Shelby Burton said.. “They beat Knox Central and some other good teams lately, and they came to play today. They played really well from start to finish.”

After a slow start this season, the Lady Cats had won four of six heading into the postseason as a veteran squad that featured six senior starters came together at the right time.

“I’m so proud of them. We put a lot of time into it, and they have worked hard,” Teague said. “I thought we could break through at some point. We hit the ball pretty well tonight and we fielded it well when we needed to.”

Nevaeh Kerns added a double and single for the Lady Cats. Jordan Muncy singled twice. Adriann Strouth and Madison Helton had one double each. Kamdyn Hoskins, Nadine Johnson, Makenzie Napier and Haylee Mills added one single each.

Halanah Shepherd and Lesleigh Brown each had doubles for the Lady Bears. Madison Blair, Jenna Wilson, Halle Raleigh and Riley Maggard added one single each.

“I looked at coach (Shelby) Wilson and said we’ve got three girls who have stepped on the field during a district tournament,” Burton said. “Inexperience can hurt a team.”

Ausmus pitched a six-hitter with four strikeouts and two walks,

Blair gave up nine runs on 10 hits with four strikeouts and one walk. Brittleigh Estep allowed four runs on three hits and a walk.

Harlan County finished 11-21 and missed the regional tournament for the first time in school history, but the struggles were not unexpected with a roster that had no seniors and was dominated by freshmen and sophomores.

“Some times you have to have some pain before you start seeing some joy,” Burton said. “It has to sting enough to make you know you have to put the work in during the offseason. We have everyone back and we can’t see this next year. We just can’t. We have to come ready to play.”

The 11-14 Lady Cats will play Middlesboro in the district championship game on Thursday at 6 p.m.

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Bell County 300 037 0 — 13. 13. 2

Harlan County 020 200 0 —   4.  6. 2

Ausmus and Napier; Blair, Estep (6), Blair (6) and Napier. WP — Ausmus. LP — Blair (8-15).

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Harlan 001 034 0 — 8. 10 5
Middlesboro 010 242 s — 9. 11. 2
Thomas and Jackson; Owens, Lawson (5) and Yoakam. WP — Lawson. LP — Thomas (5-22).