Boggs’ 3-hit day helps Bears end regional tourney drought
By JOHN HENSON
Harlan County Schools
BARBOURVILLE — Even though Tyler Boggs doesn’t fit the description of a prototypical leadoff hitter, as a senior catcher with more power than speed, Harlan County coach John Lewis likes having him at the top of his order. Boggs showed why Monday in the opening round of the 13th Region Tournament at Knox Central with three of the Bears’ six hits in a 5-1 win over Clay County.
“Boggs had a good day. He’s my best hitter, and he set the stage,” Lewis said. “I thought everybody responded well. We just struck out four times. We wanted them to attack from the first pitch. I thought we executed and had that perseverance.”
Harlan County (27-9) broke a four-game losing streak in the regional tournament with the victory. The Bears lost to eventual champ South Laurel in last year’s first round.
“It’s building, and a lot of that has to do with pitching. We’ve had three straight 20-plus win seasons. It’s a good day for Harlan County,” Lewis said.
Junior right hander Conner Leisge followed his impressive performance in a district championship win over Middlesboro by pitching five innings against the Tigers to earn his eighth win in 10 decisions. Leisge struck out five and walked three while allowing one run on three hits. Senior right hander James Bond closed the game with two innings of no-hit baseball, striking out four and walking none.
“I thought Conner located well and took his time,” Lewis said. “He walked a few of the first hitters in the inning. That was the only problem I had with him. Bond lives up to his name. He’s sneaky with his curveball and his fastball.”
Junior right hander Tanner Hoskins pitched a complete game for the Tigers, giving up five runs on six hits with four strikeouts and one walk.
Boggs led the Bears with a double and two singles. Leisge, Scotty Bailey and Andrew Dozier added one single each as Harlan County improved to 27-9 heading into Tuesday’s semifinal game against South Laurel, the defending regional champion.
Tanner Smith, Austin Carnahan and Dylan Garrison had one single each for the 18-18 Tigers, who entered the tournament as the 49th District runner-up.
Both teams missed scoring opportunities early before Harlan County broke through with three runs in the third inning. Blake Rutherford led off by reaching base on an error. Boggs followed with a bunt single. After Bond flied out to center, Bailey singled off the glove of Clay second baseman Tyler Allen for the first run. Anthony Jenkins moved the runners up with a grounder to first base, and Leisge followed with perhaps the biggest hit of the day when he ripped a two-run single to left.
“There was a lot of pressure on him,” Lewis said. “I think everybody was waiting on something to happen, kind of like in the district championship when it was 3-3 against Middlesboro. We moved them over, and he did what he was supposed to do. That’s what you have to do to win.”
“They’ve got good leaders at the top and every time they come up with guys in scoring position they do what they have to do to get that guy in,” Clay County coach Jason Smith said. “That’s a good ballclub, a very good ballclub.”
Clay scored a run in the fourth as Dustin Gross walked and Garrison singled to start the inning. Gross scored when Rutherford was unable to come up with Nathanie Huff’s fly ball to right. Leisge was able to work out of the jam with two straight strikeouts after Boggs caught Garrison straying too far off third base when Huff stole second.
Dozier singled with one out in the bottom of the fourth and Rutherford was again safe on an error. When both moved up a base with a double steal, Hoskins had a base open for Boggs, but the Tigers elected to pitch to Harlan County’s best hitter. Boggs made the Tigers pay for the mistake with a two-run single up the middle.
“We got up 0-1 because the guy stole the base. I was trying to work him outside to see if he would get himself out,” Smith said. “If he threw a ball we were going to go ahead and walk him, but he did what good hitters do and stuck his bat out and hit one up the middle.”
After escaping trouble in the first four innings, Leisge coasted through the fifth and was then replaced by Bond, making him eligible to pitch in the finals on Thursday if Harlan County can upset South Lauren in the semifinals. Bond allowed only one base runner in his two innings on an error.
“We were in spots where we could have scored some runs. We just couldn’t come up with a big hit,” Smith said. “It seemed like when we were waiting on the big hit we tried to do too much on the bases and ran ourselves out of a couple of big innings.”
Harlan County will play South Laurel at 5 on Tuesday in the regional semifinals.
Clay County 000 000 0 — 1 3 2
Harlan County 003 200 x — 5 6 2
Hoskins and Gross; Leisge, Bond (6) and Boggs. WP — Leisge (8-2). LP — Hoskins.