Jackets’ season comes to an end

Published 2:00 pm Wednesday, May 30, 2018

You could sense the tension as Middlesboro took to the plate for their final at-bat while trailing Whitley County 3-0 on Tuesday. With two outs on the board, three Jackets were walked back-to-back to load the bases with standout Tyler McCullough stepping up to the plate.

The dream of reaching a regional championship game was quickly shattered as the senior shortstop hit a grounder that allowed the Colonels to get an out at second — ending Middlesboro’s season with a three-run defeat.

As had been the story in the majority of the team’s losses, the Jackets couldn’t get the timely hit when they needed it. In five of the seven innings, Middlesboro ended its at-bat with a runner stranded on second or third.

“We had our chances early on. We had runners on every inning it seemed like, chances to score and we just couldn’t get one to fall anywhere,” said Middlesboro coach John Smith. “It seems like (Whitley) come up and got a blooper here or there when they needed one.

“We hit line drives right at people or one hoppers. We just didn’t get the hit when we needed it with runners on base. We had a couple of base running mistakes early on…that hurt us quite a bit.”

Jacob Mike was credited with the loss on the mound. He allowed three runs on five hits through 5 1/3 innings to close out his career at Middlesboro. McCullough ended the game for the Jackets.

“We set our rotation going into this. We were going Spurlock, Mike, McCullough (to) try to get through the tournament. That’s the rotation we wanted to stick with,” said Smith. “All three guys are seniors, and they’ve all been bulldogs on the mound for us all year. Spurlock threw a heck of a game (against Barbourville) to get us through the first round, and J-Mike comes out tonight and has another outstanding performance like he has all year.”

At the plate, Middlesboro tallied four hits with each one coming from a different player. Collier Elkins reached first three times on one hit and two walks. Mike, Jacob Spurlock and Brad Short each reached on singles.

Kyle Edmisten picked up the win for Whitley County. Through four innings, he allowed three hits while striking out three batters. Chance Dismuke closed the game for the Colonels and earned the save.

Tyler Shelton drove in two runs for Whitley County. Jonathon Watson, Caleb Rains and Jake Prewitt each scored runs for the Colonels.

Whitley took a 1-o lead in the first after Watson scored on an error after reaching on a walk.

Middlesboro had runners on first and second in the second inning, but Short hit into a double play to end the at-bat. The Jackets found themselves in a similar situation in the third after Brandon Helton and Elkins reached on walks. A strike out by McCullough ended the inning with runners stranded.

After holding the Colonels scoreless in the third, the Jackets would once again find themselves with two outs and runners on base in the fourth. A strike out by Chase Elliott ended the at-bat.

Whitley County took a 2-0 lead in the fourth after Prewitt reached on a walk. He scored on the sac-fly by Shelton.

After holding Middlesboro silent for two innings, the Colonels took a three-run lead in the sixth on an RBI single by Shelton.

All hope wasn’t lost as the Jackets entered their final at-bat. After Dismuke struck out two straight batters, he walked the next three to load the bases with McCullough stepping up to the plate. The senior grounded it to the shortstop, who forced the out at second to end the game.

“Bases loaded, there were two outs, down three runs. We got our three hitter and four hitter coming up. I could sort of taste the victory right there,” said Smith. “It looks like you got a curve ball a little off the plate, and (he) capped it to the shortstop. We put ourselves in a situation at the end, and that’s all you can ask.”

Middlesboro ends the year with an impressive 21-12 record — one win better than the 2017 campaign. The team will take a hit next season as they graduate nine seniors with the majority of them being a core part of the starting line-up for the past three or four years.

Those seniors include: Joshua Arnold, Jared Davis, Chase Elliott, Brandon Helton, Tyler McCullough, Jacob Mike, Brad Short, Jacob Spurlock and Danny Williams.

“It’s like we helped raise these boys. They’ve been around five or six years most of them. We’ve watched them grow as young men and as ball players. I couldn’t be more proud of a group of young men,” said Smith. “They’re all going to go to school, get a degree (and) get a good job. They’re always welcome back any time they want to come back.

“I just hope we’ve instilled some work ethic and team work and some other qualities in them other than just trying to teach them baseball. It was a heck of a group. I’ve spent more time with them than my own family these last five or six years. They’re like my sons. I love every one of them and wish them the best of luck.”

Reach Anthony Cloud at 606-302-9090 or on Twitter @AnthonyCloudMDN