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Revealing of the rivals

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Campbell County, Jellico meet for first time in middle school baseball

By Chris Cannon

ccannon@lafollettepress.com

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“You’re killin’ me, Smalls!”

The famous quote by “The Sandlot” character, Hamilton “Ham” Porter, fit the evening on Saturday for the Jellico middle school baseball squad.

Nathan “Smalls” Johnson hurled a bomb from just inside right field, throwing Isaac Mitchell out at home plate. Catcher Max Farris made the tag, as Mitchell was trying to extend his triple into an inside-the-park home run.

“Well, I thought that he would get home because it tipped my glove (and fell out),” Smalls said. “I just picked the ball up and threw it home. I was just nervous as could be in my mind.”

The run would have been the Blue Devil’s tying score, but the play ended Jellico’s momentum.

Campbell County would seize the momentum to take the win, 11-3.

“That’s why I have him out there,” Campbell County head coach Brian Miracle said of his sixth-grade second baseman. “I have trust that he’ll be able to make that throw. That was a big momentum shift. (Jellico) made a couple plays and had hit the ball there and put it in play…that was a big out there at home.”

For Smalls, however, he was just glad the play ended as it did.

Had Jellico scored, the Blue Devils would have knotted the game at 4-all.

“I was very excited,” he said. “I was just partying in my head. I know Max can catch it and tag people out like that.”

Jellico head coach Sam Bryant said the aggressiveness is all part of the Blue Devils’ plan.

The bobble by Smalls in the outfield as Mitchell was rounding third was an opening Jellico couldn’t pass up.

“I like to push the issue and be aggressive on the bases,” Bryant said. “I kind of made a mistake there. It killed our rally a little bit, and we’re not able to rebound from a little adversity.”

According to Bryant, the Jellico middle school squad has lost four games because of one inning.

As the team has very little experience through little league, according to Bryant, they’re not tough enough to rebound from adversity and big plays.

However, the progress his guys have made throughout the season can be seen on the field. On Saturday, they held with a more experienced and bigger team in the Cougars.

“Our kids don’t see it, but me and our coaches and some fans that follow us know how hard we’ve worked from the get-go,” Bryant said. “How far we’ve come from February 1 until now. I’m proud of what we’ve done.”

Campbell County used a four-hit inning in order to break the game open in the bottom of the first inning. Nate Stevens popped up right in front of home plate, but the ball was lost in the bright sky. An RBI triple to center by Dillon Dilbeck scored Stevens, before Jared Ray found an RBI of his own with a double to center. Ray was able to score on a wild pitch. A fielder’s choice scored Peyton Ellison four batters later, making the score 4-0 going into the second inning.

During the second inning, Jellico found momentum in an error and a walk. Danny Taylor scored on an errant throw, as Michael Renner advanced to second base. Derek Bowlin’s single to center broke Seth Tackett’s no-hitter attempt, as he scored Renner from second. Going into the bottom of the inning, Jellico trailed 4-2.

Michael Arnstedt reached on an error, before he stole second and was moved to third by a wild pitch. Mitchell’s triple to right scored Arnstedt, before the 9-4-2 put-down slowed Jellico’s momentum.

“I really think that was the momentum shift that we needed,” Miracle said. “We broke it out the next inning. It was a confidence booster for (Smalls), but also something that got us going with the bats.”

A five-hit bottom of the third broke the game open for the Cougars. Ray, Ellison (two RBI), Logan Giles (two RBI), Farris (RBI), and Dilbeck (RBI) each recorded singles. Tackett and Smalls each drew walks, while Campbell County extended their lead to 11-3.

Tackett threw three strikeouts in the fourth inning to end the game, as only Bowlin was able to muster a hit in the Blue Devils’ final at-bat.

“I guess we have the bragging rights for a year,” Miracle said. “We’ll see how it goes next year.”

“This is a pretty big game for us,” Smalls said. “They’re right across town, and we just love to play.”