Bears win rivalry matchup

Published 4:56 pm Monday, April 15, 2024

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By John Henson

Contributing Sports Writer

Brought to you by our partners at Harlan County Sports.

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Even though they didn’t bring back any wins from their spring break trip to Atlanta, the Harlan County Black Bears considered it a learning experience.

It may have paid off last Monday in their district opener as the Bears scored the game’s first six runs on the way to a 6-3 win.

“It was a nice start. We came out aggressive, and that’s something we talked about because we weren’t real aggressive in Georgia. We were excited, including the guys in our dugout, and that’s good to see,” Harlan County coach Scotty Bailey said.

HCHS senior right-hander Tristan Cooper got all the runs he needed in the first two innings as he struck out 15, walked two and allowed four hits to earn the win.

“He had a different look to him today, and I told him he needed to have that look every game,” Bailey said. “He pitched like one of the top pitchers in the region today against a good ballclub.”

“Tristan is a phenomenal pitcher, and he was by the book all day. He got ahead with the fastball and then he made some big pitches with sliders,” Harlan coach Lee Freyer said. “You don’t see a lot of sliders in high school. He pitched a good game tonight.”

Two of the Bears’ seniors, cousins Will Cassim and Samuel Henson, had the biggest hits for HCHS. Henson had a two-run single in the first inning and Cassim blasted a two-run homer in the second after singling in the four-run first.

“Samuel works hard and got in there and a had a good approach and took it right up the middle,” Bailey said. “Will also had a good approach and came through in a big spot. I’m proud of both of them.”

Harlan starter Will Varner struggled with command from the start as he walked four in the first inning. Alex Creech was safe on an error followed by a walk to Isaac Kelly and infield hit by Cassim to load the bases, Cooper’s ground out brought in one run, then Henson brought in two after Mason Himes walked. Consecutive walks to Jesse Gilbert and Aiden Craig forced in another run.

Kelly walked with one out in the second and came home on Cassim’s homer.

While the 7-7 Bears were playing several games out of state last week, the 8-3 Dragons had only game due to adverse weather conditions. Freyer said the lack of work hurt his squad.

“It was 100 percent my fault,” he said. “We had games scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, and we got the game in at Hazard, but then we had rain. I tried my best to get a game Friday or Saturday. Nothing simulates a game like playing in a game. We don’t have the facilities to go inside and hit, so when it rains we’re just done. We just weren’t sharp today, and that’s my fault for not being able to get them out and practice.”

Varner gave up six runs on three hits with one strikeout and five walks over 1 1/3 innings. Jared Moore took over in the second inning and shut down the HCHS offense as he retired the first 13 batters he faced before giving up a walk. The junior right-hander finished with 4 2/3 innings of no-hit baseball.

“He came in and threw strikes, and he always does against us,” Bailey said. “He kept us off balance. We hit at times, but it was right at them.”

“We came out and completed. They don’t quit, and they play hard. The first two innings were as bad as we’ve played all year, and that parts on me,” Freyer said. “We have some great kids who played their tails off.”

Chris Rouse broke up Cooper’s no-hitter with a single in the fourth inning, then scored on Cooper’s errant pickoff attempt at third base.

Jake Brewer reached on catcher interference in the fifth inning and eventually scored on a wild pitch.

Eli Freyer led off the sixth inning with a hit and scored on Aiden Johnson’s two-out single into right.

Luke Luttrell opened the seventh inning with a double, but Cooper picked him off with a throw to Aiden Craig at second to end the Dragons’ last threat.

Both teams made several nice plays on defense, led by Varner with five assists after moving to shortstop. Jake Brewer had a diving catch in foul territory at third base. Creech went behind the bag to run down a grounder in the fourth inning and Gibert made a diving stop in right field in the fifth inning.