TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY
By John Henson & Mitch Howard For The Times-Tribune
HARLAN — When the 11-year-old North Laurel All Stars look back on their District 4 Tournament championship run in 2013, they will likely remember the difficult path they had to follow after losing 11-3 to Corbin in the winners bracket semifinals.
North Laurel reeled off five straight wins over five straight days to earn a trip to the state tournament, capping the run with back-to-back 6-1 wins over Corbin on Saturday and Sunday.
Colby Howard led North Laurel with a strong performance on the mound Saturday and a big day at the plate Sunday. Howard pitched a two-hitter Saturday with nine strikeouts and two walks. He had the big blow in Sunday's win, breaking a scoreless tie in the third inning with a three-run blast to left after Noah Rogers and Blake VanHook had led off the inning with singles against Corbin starter Zach Hash.
Howard had two hits to lead North Laurel on Sunday with a homer and single. Rogers, VanHook, Blaine Miller, Bryson Brock and Cameron Cotton added one single each.
Miller pitched four innings to earn the win, giving up three hits and one walk with three strikeouts. Rogers allowed two hits and one run in two innings with two strikeouts and no walks.
Ben Phillips, who had two homers in an extra-inning win over Harlan earlier in the tournament, hit a solo homer in the fifth inning to account for Corbin's lone run. Gorman Chandler, Caden Worley and Steven Manon added one single each.
Hash shut out North over the first two innings before running into trouble in the third, giving up five runs on six hits with one strikeout and two walks. Manon gave up one run on two hits in 2 2/3 innings with three strikeouts and one walk.
Miller led North Laurel in the Saturday win with a double and single. Seth McClure singled twice. Howard added a homer and VanHook doubled.
Phillips and Ben Spencer had singles for Corbin.
North Laurel 6, Corbin 1
North Laurel 11-12 All Stars coach Jason Vanhook told his players they had chosen the toughest road possible. With Saturday’s 6-1 win over Corbin they were one win from navigating that road to the state tournament.
“I never doubted it,” Vanhook said, even after an 11-3 loss in their first meeting with Corbin. North Laurel also had to open the tournament by beating a Knox Central team that had eliminated them in the championship game the past two years.
The game ball Saturday went to Colby Howard, who starred on both the mound and at the plate. Howard held Corbin hitless until the fourth inning. He also blasted a tape-measure home run over the scoreboard and through the pine trees beyond the fence at Huff Field.
While Howard was mowing down the Corbin batters, the North Laurel offense struck for two runs in the second, third and fifth innings. Seth McClure got the second inning started with a single on the first pitch. Blaine Miller came through with a double to score McClure with two outs and two strikes. Miller would score on a wild pitch.
In the third inning, it was Blake Vanhook ripping a double down the third base line. Howard followed with his two-run blast that everyone knew was gone when he swung.
“Probably 260 or 270 (feet). Like I told him, it is probably one of the farthest home runs I have ever seen. When he is in that zone, when he comes to the ball field and he means business, that’s what he does,” Vanhook said.
With a 4-0 lead, Howard stepped back on the mound and struck out the side in the bottom of the third. He made it four straight strikeouts before issuing a walk to Garner Chandler.
Chandler was quickly erased when Noah Rogers picked a ground ball at shortstop and turned a double play.
Rogers then walked to open the fifth inning and Howard singled off the pitcher’s glove. Corbin was able to retire McClure for the only time, but his grounder was good enough to drive in a run. An infield single by Cameron Cotton scored Howard for a 6-0 lead.
Howard finally ran into some trouble on the mound in the fifth inning. Ben Phillips legged out an infield hit and Ethan Wine also singled. With one out, Caden Worley walked to load the bases. Spencer Gilbert’s grounded into a fielder’s choice, which allowed the only Corbin run to score. Howard struck out the next batter to end the inning.