By Les Dixon / Sports Editor
HARLAN COUNTY — After getting off to a slow 2-5 start to begin the season, Brandon Hillard’s young Knox Central Panthers are beginning to show why they are considered an up and coming team in the 13th Region.
Knox Central (6-7) picked up two wins Saturday, an 11-2 win over Harlan, and an impressive 7-5 victory against a Clay County team that was coming off a win over defending 13th Region champion South Laurel.
Hillard’s squad finished the Black Bears Classic with a 2-1 record even after beginning the tournament with a no-hit loss to Harlan County.
Knox Central freshman Hunter McRight turned in a solid effort Saturday, finishing with a 5-for-8 effort at the plate, which included four doubles, a single, three RBIs and two runs scored.
“We had great pitching performances all weekend from Evan Lay, Seth Hill, Aaron Patterson and Dustin Bingham,” Hillard said. “Even though we suffered a no-hit loss to Harlan County (on Friday), the boys hit the ball on the nose the entire game.”
Knox Central 7, Clay County 5
The Panthers jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning against Clay County, but the Tigers rallied with five runs in the top of the fifth inning to take a 5-3 edge.
Clay County’s lead didn’t last long, though. Knox Central responded with four runs in the bottom of the inning to pick up the two-run win.
McRight finished going 3-for-4 (two doubles) at the plate while driving in a run and scoring twice. Jake Stewart finished with a double and two RBI while Patterson allowed five runs in five innings of work and struck out three batters. Dustin Bingham picked up the save by pitching the game’s final two innings, surrendering only one hit.
Knox Central 11, Harlan 2
The Panthers collected seven hits and took advantage of nine errors by Harlan to pick up the easy nine-run victory.
Knox Central scored three runs in the first inning and never looked back. The Panthers also added a run in the second, four in the third, two in the fourth and one in the fifth.
McRight led Knox Central with two hits and two RBIs while Stewart (1-for-3) also drove in two runs during the win. Hill picked up the win on the mound, pitching a complete game while allowing two earned runs and finishing the game with nine Ks.