By John Stepp For The Times Tribune
With their season on the line, the Corbin Little League All-Stars are just one win away from a trip to the state tournament after defeating the Knox All-Stars 7-3 in the District 4 Tournament on Monday.
It’s been a long road for Corbin, who lost to North Laurel earlier in the tournament and had to fight their way back from the losers’ bracket to make the championship game. Now, the winner of tonight’s game will decide who’ll be crowned champs.
It didn’t look good early for Corbin when Knox’s Connor Bain blasted a two-run homer into the parking lot of Rotary Park in the top of the first inning, but Chad Estep’s squad has thrived on adversity the entire tournament.
“These kids have faced so much adversity, starting out in the losers’ bracket and having to win, and that’s been one benefit is that they’ve become accustomed to it,” said Estep. “If it’d been earlier in the tournament, it probably would have shaken them, but they’ve overcome so much at this point, that it has helped us sustain it and overcome those things.”
Corbin got a run back in the bottom of the inning, after Brendan Henegar reached on an error to score Chase Estep. Knox led 2-1 after the first inning.
After allowing two runs in the first, Corbin pitcher Nate Steely bounced back to retire the side in the second inning. Steely found his rhythm throughout the remainder of the game, picking up the win in a complete game effort. Steely allowed just three runs on five hits, with only three of those hits coming after the first.
“After that first inning, he emotionally got into the game. He mixed speeds up and changed pitches so well, that he kept them off balance the entire game,” said Estep. “That is really his pearl; that’s what he does well. When he can do that, he is really, really effective.”
With two outs in the bottom of the second inning, Corbin rallied to put four runs on the board and take a 5-2 lead. A double by Estep started the rally, and a single by Henegar scored two runs. Corbin added two more runs on throwing errors, to end the scoring rally.
Estep and Henegar led Corbin at the plate. Estep finished with two doubles and a single, with an RBI, while Henegar had two singles and three RBI.
“Those two guys hit every day, for hours, and they even call me to go hit. When you put that much time in, good things tend to happen,” said Estep. “We try to put them in the lineup to where, hopefully, people are on base when they get up. As their averages and on-base percentages have increased, we’ve moved them around in the lineup, and it’s paid off.”
A double by Estep and another throwing error by Knox scored two more runs for Corbin in the bottom of the fourth, to give them a lead of 7-2.
Knox looked to be in position to make a comeback in the top of the fifth, with two men on and only one out, but a diving catch in right field by Lucas Henegar and a tag at home by his brother Brendan gave Corbin the double play they needed to get out of the inning unscathed.
Knox added another run in the top of the sixth, but that was all, as Steely struck out the final batter to end the game.
“They did what they had to do to win. We just didn’t play defense tonight, and we didn’t bring out bats, either,” said Knox Coach Gary Bain. “They’ve gotten the momentum back and the pressure is on us now. We have to be ready to play baseball tomorrow. That’s what it’s about.”
Estep said his team feels good, having come back from the losers’ bracket, but still relish the underdog role.
“As a team, we still feel like we’re the underdogs, but we like it that way,” said Estep. “As far as the kids are concerned, they’re still the team out of the winners’ bracket, and we have to win one more to do something special. We’ve got to come ready to play tomorrow.”
Corbin defeats Knox County, forces second game
By John Stepp For The Times Tribune
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