By Les Dixon / Sports Editor
MIDDLESBORO — The Knox Central Panthers (8-9) and Whitley County Colonels (8-3) both turned in solid showings during this past weekend’s Billy Joe Idol Memorial Tournament.
The Panthers posted a 2-1 record while the Colonels were 1-1.
Knox Central coach Brandon Hillard said he continues to see his ball club improve.
“We are getting better,” he said. “To be able to get some wins is very good because we played some very good competition. Our errors have decreased and that is good. One error here or there can change the complexion of a game.
“I was also pleased with all three of our pitchers,” he added. “They did a great job this weekend. We lost that nailbiter to Tri-County North that felt like a kick in the stomach, but we picked up a good win against a good Whitley County team.
Whitley County coach Kyle Adams said he was pleased with the way his team played over the weekend.
“I thought we played good in both games even though we got beat by Knox Central,” he said. “I thought we played pretty good. I thought our pitching done well and we played well defensively.
“I was really pleased with the way we played against the Ohio team,” he added. “We were the only team to beat them down there and they are pretty good. We have gotten better the past two games and we’ve played well. That’s the biggest thing.”
Knox Central 7, Whitley County 2
The Panthers jumped out to a 7-0 lead and never looked back during their five-run win over Whitley County.
Knox Central hit three home runs during the win and pounded out eight hits. Jake Nelson connected with a homer in the first inning while Evan Lay hit a two-run blast over the fence in the second inning and Hunter McRight’s homer capped the fireworks off in the third.
McRight led the way with a 2-for-4 effort at the plate, which included a home run and a double. He also led the team with three RBIs. Nelson went 2-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs while Lay had a homer and two RBIs.
Whitley County tried to rally in the sixth inning by scoring two runs, as Matt Vanover and Alex Rose connected with run-scoring hits, but it wasn’t enough.
Knox Central’s Drew Mills shut down the Colonels on the mound, tossing all seven innings, allowing only one earned run and four hits, while striking out four batters.
Tri-County North, Ohio 4, Knox Central 3, 8 innings
The Panthers took a 3-2 advantage into the bottom of the sixth inning before seeing Tri-County North tie the game at three apiece and win the game in the bottom of the eighth.
Knox Central took a 2-0 lead in the third inning after Nelson’s double drove in two runs. After seeing Tri-County North tie the game at two apiece, the Panthers took their last lead of the contest in the top of the sixth inning after seeing Aaron Patterson score on a passed ball.
Knox Central finished the game with four hits, as Patterson and Nelson each had a double in the loss. Patterson took the loss on the mound, pitching 7 1/3 innings allowing five hits and three earned runs while striking out seven batters.
Knox Central 5, Middlesboro 4
The Panthers scored two runs in the first inning and built a 3-0 lead before seeing Middlesboro rally to take a 4-3 lead in the fifth inning.
Knox Central answered with two runs in the top of the seventh to pick up the slim one-run victory.
The Panthers tied the game after Trevor Sanborn, who reached base with a single, scored on an RBI single by Nelson. Nelson scored the eventual game-winning run after an error by the Yellow Jackets.
Nelson led the way with a 3-for-3 effort at the plate while delivering a double and one RBI. Dustin Bingham also drove in a run in the win. Lay picked up the win, tossing a complete game while allowing five hits and two earned runs. He also struck out nine batters.
Whitley County 3, Tri-County North, Ohio 2
The Colonels were the only team to hand Tri-County North a loss in the tournament. Whitley County scored two runs in the first inning and added another in the fourth and never looked back.
Rose led the way at the plate by going 1-for-3, which included a two-run homer. He also picked up the save, tossing two scoreless innings while allowing only one hit. Steven Watson got the win by pitching five impressive innings. He allowed five hits and one earned run while striking out three batters.