By Les Dixon / Staff Writer
And just like that, it’s high school softball and baseball season.
Things are going to be interesting, to say the least, with both sports in the Tri-County.
On the softball side of things, both defending 13th Region champion South Laurel and rival North Laurel were hit hard with graduation last season, and have went with what you might say, a youth movement, while Chris Hart’s Corbin Lady Redhounds are experienced and talented and ready to show everyone just how good they are.
Switching to baseball, Both North and South Laurel look to be solid once again, and don’t forget about a much-improved Knox Central squad while Rob Ledington’s Redhounds will be right in the mix of things as well.
Player of the Week
Hagan Burns, South Laurel — Burns pitched seven shut out innings during the Lady Cardinals’ season-opening win over Lexington Catholic Saturday. Burns was solid in her season debut, striking out 11 batters while allowing only one hit.
Big match-up ahead
Everyone has turned their sites to Thursday’s showdown between 13th Region pre-season favorite Corbin and North Laurel. The Lady Redhounds will enter the game with hopes of showing everyone why they have been tagged as the team to beat in the region while the youthful Lady Jaguars are hoping to pull off the early season win and establish themselves as the top team in the 13th Region.
Chris Hart’s squad is led by two-time Class 2A Player of the Year Hannah Hart while North Laurel’s pitching duo of Madison McDaniel and Mikayla Viars could very well turn out to be the best pitching combination in the region.
Youth is served
With both North and South Laurel getting hit hard by graduation this past season, both teams have went the youth route to begin the season.
The Lady Cardinals started eighth graders at both third base and right field while also fielding sophomores at first base and center field and left field.
North Laurel is just as young.
The Lady Jaguars started an eighth grader on the pitcher’s mound and a seventh grader starting at third base. First-year coach Kyle Mink had sophomores starting at left field, center field and right field along with first base and shortstop.
These teams are young, but will be much-improved by the end of the regular season.
Fear ‘Les’ Softball
1. Corbin — The Lady Redhounds are a veteran and talented team, led by one of the top pitchers in the state. It will be interesting to see how they perform against North Laurel Thursday.
2. South Laurel — The Lady Cardinals are young, but good. Pitcher Hagan Burns is one of the best pitchers in the state, and turned in a solid season-opening effort against Lexington Catholic. Keep an eye on clean-up hitter Makenzie Powenski. She’s only an eighth grader, but already ranks as one of the top hitters in the region.
3. North Laurel — Kyle Mink’s team could be the most dangerous squad by the time post-season rolls around. The Lady Jaguar roster is loaded with young talent.
4. Clay County — The Lady Tigers have an outside shot to make some noise this season. They are still a year or two away from cracking the top two in the region.
5. Middlesboro — The Lady Yellow Jackets have went through some ups-and-downs lately, but look to be much-improved this season. Their match-up against South Laurel Monday is a must-watch.
6. Harlan County — Keep an eye on the Lady Black Bears. They are another dangerous team.
7. Knox Central — The Lady Panthers look to be solid while building on last season’s success.
8. Bell County — The Lady Bobcats are a team to that will improve as the season progresses.
9. Whitley County — The Lady Colonels are another young team that will get better as the season goes along.
10. Lynn Camp — I really like the job Nikki Hendrix is doing at North Laurel. The former North Laurel star already has the Lady Wildcats sitting pretty at 2-1 on the season.
Player of the Week
Logan Mallory, North Laurel — Mallory might not have had his best stuff on the mound Saturday against Rockcastle County, but he did lead the way with three hits, including the game-winning RBI during the Jaguars’ 8-7 comeback win over the Rockets.
Wynn Harris’ South Laurel Cardinals have already recorded two big 13th Region wins during the first two days of high school baseball.
South Laurel has shown early why many consider the Cardinals as the team to beat in the 13th Region, thanks to solid hitting and pitching. Harris’ squad knocked off Clay County in fine fashion, 10-2, Friday before going on the road to play Middlesboro Saturday and pulling off a 5-2 victory.
The recent ice storm has forced South Laurel to play its home games at North Laurel High School for the time being, and the Jaguars looked pretty good by scoring 10 runs against a good Tiger team Friday.
What a comeback
Defending 13th Region champion North Laurel spotted Rockcastle County a 7-0 lead before rallying to score eight unanswered runs during its one-run win Saturday at home. This team is talented once again, and could very well repeat as region champs.
Another team that’s looking pretty solid early on is Brandon Hillard’s Knox Central Panthers. They are currently 2-0 on the season while outscoring their opponents 23-0 during the process.
The Panthers picked up a 10-0 win over Williamsburg to open the season and followed with an impressive 13-0 victory over Bell County.
Fear ‘Les’ Baseball Diamond Rankings
1. South Laurel — The Cardinals return a lot of talent, and enters the season as the region’s top-ranked team.
2. Harlan County — The Black Bears are another team that returns a lot of talent to the mix this season.
3. North Laurel — The defending 13th Region champs could have the best pitching rotation in the region. The Jaguars did lose Marcus Carson to graduation, but they remain dangerous.
4. Knox Central — The Panthers are young and talented. Don’t be surprised to see Brandon Hillard’s squad to continue to move on up.
5. Clay County — The Tigers have pitching, but need some more bats to be even better.
6. Corbin — Rob Ledington’s squad is set to surprise this season.
7. Middlesboro — The Yellow Jackets could very well move up in the rankings as the season progresses.
8. Whitley County — The Colonels are expected to be solid once again.
9. Barbourville — Look for the Tigers to surprise some this season.
10. Williamsburg — The Yellow Jackets might start off slow, but could be a team to keep an eye on this season.
Corbin looking to end Laurel County’s softball reign in the 13th region
By Les Dixon / Staff Writer
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