By Chris Parsons / Staff Writer
SOUTH LAUREL —South Laurel’s 1-0 win over Knox Central Monday had all the elements of a postseason nail-biter.
Both pitchers were on their game as evident by a scoreless game through six-and-a-half innings.
Both teams played nearly flawless defense as South Laurel only committed one error, which was actually by the Cardinals’ pitcher on a botched pickoff play.
Both teams managed to put runners in scoring position in the final inning, with South Laurel coming through thanks to a sacrifice fly by Joe Gaines to end the game.
Afterward, both coaches agreed the game had the feel of something more than a run-of-the-mill game at the tail end of the regular season.
“This game felt like a region championship game to me,” Knox Central coach Brandon Hillard said. “You’ve got two teams that played flawless defense, backing up two pitchers that were at their best tonight and that’s all you can say.
“We lost the game, but I told my kids before they even got off the field to not even think about hanging their heads,” he added. “We played well and to be honest, I’ll take a fly-ball to Jake Nelson every time with a guy coming from third to score, but it just so happened that one was hit a little too deep to make the play on.”
The fly-ball Hillard spoke of was the game-winning sacrifice fly by Joe Gaines, which came with the bases loaded and allowed Tucker Martin to score as the throw by Nelson came up short.
South Laurel coach Wynn Harris echoed Hillard’s sentiments on the quality of baseball played by both teams, giving equal credit to both pitchers as well as the defense.
“I’m not sure what that kid's name is, but he pitched a heck of a game,” Harris said of Knox Central’s Drew Mills. “Both teams played really good defense, but we were able to get that run in at the end and get the win.
“This is a good win because it shows that we’re able to win these close, low-scoring games, as opposed to the ones where you have a big inning and break things open,” he added. “These are the kind of games you have to win in district, region and state tournaments if you’re able to make it that far.”
The two teams left a combined 13 runners on base by the time the game was over, with the Cardinals leaving the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth after loading them with one out.
Mills worked his way out of trouble by getting South Laurel’s Matt Slavey and Austin Moore to fly out.
The Panthers threatened to score in the top of the seventh when Casey Patterson singled and advanced to second when the Cardinals’ Matt Slavey walked Evan Lay to put runners on first and second. Trevor Sanborn couldn’t come through though as he lined out to shortstop Alex Sears to end the inning.
Zach Allen led off the bottom of the seventh with a long single off the left field wall and after Brennan Miller flied out, Trey Martin and Trent Abner singled to load the bases.
Gaines connected with the first pitch he saw as Tucker Martin was able to tag up and score the winning run.