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It took John Hardin freshman Darian Pope some time to get into a rhythm on the mound, but he didn’t have any such trouble with the bat.
Pope found his groove at the plate, sparking John Hardin’s offense and helping the Bulldogs to a 7-1 victory over the Fort Knox Eagles in the 17th District Tournament quarterfinal at Ron Myers Field.
“I was feeling it at the plate,” said Pope, who went 2-for-2 with a double, a run, an RBI and three stolen bases. “We didn’t have the best hitting game, so hopefully we hit it better tomorrow.”
Senior Andrew Kirkland was 2-for-3 with a double, two runs and two RBIs, while junior Dajour Strong and eighth-grader Diante Ditto each had a double.
It wasn’t as easy as John Hardin’s two regular-season meetings with the Eagles this year. The Bulldogs won in five innings in the first meeting and in six innings in the second, but in the end, it was the same result.
“It’s big time to get this win,” Kirkland said. “It’s going to be tougher tomorrow, but getting that first win is the first step. Our team chemistry has gotten much better. We’re putting everything together at the right time and we’re on a roll right now.”
The fourth-seeded Bulldogs, who have won six straight and 7-of-8, advance to meet top-seeded Elizabethtown (23-7) at 5:30 p.m. today in the district tournament’s early semifinal.
“We’re moving on and that’s the most important thing,” John Hardin coach Greg Gumm said. “We need to come out tomorrow ready to play and I think we will.”
Besides his offense, Pope struck out eight in his complete-game win. He limited Fort Knox to three hits, seven walks and one unearned run.
“He did what we wanted him to do,” Gumm said. “He pitched the whole game and allowed us to rest some of our pitchers for tomorrow. His control wasn’t the best, but he battled through it and did what we needed him to do.”
Pope got off to a shaky start in his postseason debut. Junior Andrew Junek drew a leadoff walk and junior Coltin Stabler reached on a fielder’s choice. With one out, junior All-Tournament selection Jon Box singled sharply to center field. Senior Dale Gumm threw out Stabler trying to steal third, and after a walk to senior Gilbert Maldonado, Box and Maldonado both ended up at second and Gumm tagged out Box to end the inning.
It was much different in the second as Pope settled in, striking out the side in the second and two more in the third.
“It was rocky in the beginning,” Pope said. “I couldn’t find my rhythm. I was kind of all over the place. I started pitching better as we got more into the game.”
In the bottom of the third, Pope singled to center, stole second and third and scored on a wild pitch. Senior Lavonte Wilson walked and stole second and third, and then Dale Gumm walked and stole second. After fouling off a pitch down the left-field line, Kirkland ripped a two-run double to left and scored on sophomore Landen Sisk’s sacrifice bunt to give the Bulldogs a 4-0 lead.
“I knew he was going to try to keep me off-balance,” Kirkland said. “I was out in front on the pitch I fouled off. He threw me a curveball for a ball and then he gave me a fastball and I took it right where it was placed.”
That was more than enough for Pope, but the Bulldogs tacked on a run in the fourth on Pope’s sacrifice fly and added two more in the fifth on Strong’s two-run double.
Fort Knox had its chances against Pope, but left eight stranded, including leaving the bases loaded in the sixth. The Eagles’ lone run came in the fifth when sophomore Cameron Bush scored on an error after a walk. Maldonado and eighth-grader Donovan Blas each had a single.
Box struck out five in the loss, allowing six hits and four walks. All seven runs were earned.
“Give Jon Box a lot of credit,” Greg Gumm said. “He competes hard. It’s hard to dig in against him because he never throws the same pitch twice. He does a really good job.”
JOHN HARDIN 7, FORT KNOX 1
Fort Knox 000 010 0 1 3 3
John Hardin 004 120 x 7 6 2
Jon Box and James Clark. Darian Pope and Dale Gumm. WP: Pope (2-2). LP: Box. 2B: Andrew Kirkland (JH), Dajour Strong (JH), Diante Ditto (JH), Pope (JH).
Chuck Jones can be reached at 270-505-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.