by Dennis Mills
Knox Central baseball stuns Corbin in last inning.
Pitcher Seth Hill, nursing a two run lead in the bottom of the seventh inning, steps back to the mound after giving up two straight singles to Corbin batters. Hill , watching the runners on the corners of the diamond, lets a 1-0 pitch sail toward Corbin hitter Peyton Burford for a strike as first base runner Conner Hicks steals second to put the tying run in scoring position. Hicks steps back to the mound and makes a quick throw to third base to pick off Corbin’s Nick Vorbeck for the third and final out of the game as the Panther dugout goes wild over the 5-3 victory.
When asked about the game, Coach Brandon Hillard said, “The thing I loved the most about this win is the way they responded to adversity.” Corbin led for six of the seven innings by taking an early 0-3 lead in the first inning and controlled the game until the seventh and final inning. The Panthers rallied for two runs in the top of the seventh to take a 5-3 advantage and the eventual win.
“Early on we had sloppy base running and you have a coach who is extremely upset. These boys go back out and respond and respond in a positive way. That shows growth in the mental game,” stated Hillard.
The Panthers gave up three runs on two hits in the bottom of the first inning and managed to get one run back in the top of the second. Knox Central’s Jaxon Stewart hit a long fly to right field that drove in Casey Patterson for the Panthers first score of the game.
Central’s Seth Hill and Corbin’s Connor Hicks battled through the fifth inning holding each other in check for a 1-3 advantage to Corbin.
“Hicks, there number one pitcher and [Seth] Hill our number one guy”, said Hillard, “was like watching the first round of a prized fight. The score does not indicate the pitching duel that was going on.”
Knox Central put up one run in the sixth inning. Casey Patterson took a one out, 3-2 pitch to center field for a double followed by a ground ball double up the middle by Jaxon Stewart to put base runners at second and third with one out. Corbin intentionally walks Brayden Imel to load the bases for Drew Mills. Mills hit a shot for a single that drives in Patterson but Stewart is thrown out at home for the third out. The Redhounds lead by one going into the seventh inning, 2-3.
“Drew Mills comes out, he’s not in the starting line-up”, said Hillard. I’m telling him the whole game: You may hit right here, you may come in to pitch. He comes in and puts some good stick on the ball and we score runs.”
The Panthers got an early base runner in the top of the seventh as Evan Lay walked as the lead-off batter. After a strike-out by Jacob Nelson, Trevor Sanborn hit the first pitch he saw to center field for a double. Corbin walked Casey Patterson to load the bases for the second straight inning setting up a game winning double to right field by Jaxon Stewart to take the lead for the first time in the game and secure a 5-3 victory for Knox Central.
“You can’t make that stuff up. It was great baseball,” stated Hillard. “When you can come into Corbin Stadium and walk out with a victory, you have accomplished something.”
“We had a couple of games where we thought we could win just by showing up. It took a team meeting with just the players to say to each other – you miss this play for any reason and you’re not playing the next day. After that conversation, their hearts have been full for each other.”
The Panthers followed up the win with a victory over Hazard in the Forcht Bank Classic held at Knox Central High School but dropped two games in the same tournament. The Panthers lost to Southwestern, 4-6, and then to North Laurel, 1-5.
Knox Central will be back in action on Apr. 29 when they travel to take on Lynn Camp and again on May 1 against Rockcastle County at home.