Jun. 10—Round one of the county baseball rivalry went to the Yellow Jackets in a big way Tuesday night.
Lee County called on ace Carson Kelly in the first of two games against arch-rival Southern Lee, and the senior delivered to the tune of 16 strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings before leaving the game with 107 pitches thrown. The dominant performance was more than enough to lift the team to a 9-0 victory.
The Yellow Jackets (8-5, 5-4 overall) won for the fourth time in five games and put any chances for Southern to three-peat as conference champions, even with just a share of the title, on life support. Union Pines won Tuesday night and can clinch the outright Tri-County Conference title for 2021 with just one win in either of its final two games.
But the Cavaliers had much bigger problems to deal with than watching any scoreboards in Lillington, where Union Pines was pummeling Western Harnett 18-6. Kelly was dealing from the start. Southern did collect five hits off him, but the strikeouts made it impossible for the Cavaliers to put any pressure on Lee's defense.
Each team threatened in the first inning. The Jackets got two men on base with one out, but Southern pitcher Pierce Bouwman pitched his way out of the jam with back-to-back strikeouts. The Cavaliers collected two hits in the bottom of the first, but Kelly also struck his way out of it.
Lee drew first blood in the second, as Claybourne Cole led off with a walk, moved to second on a sacrifice by Cameron Cabe and then scored on Will Patterson's double.
The Yellow Jackets would get more, but Kelly didn't need it. He walked the leadoff man in the Southern second and then struck out the side. In the third, the Cavaliers loaded the bases on two singles and an error, but it didn't matter because he struck out the side again. In the fourth, he whiffed all three batters who faced him.
The fourth was the inning in which the Yellow Jackets started to pull away. Bouwman had been struggling with his control. Cole led off with a single only to be erased on an unsuccessful sacrifice by Cabe, but the latter redeemed himself by stealing second and then scoring on a passed ball. Bouwman then walked Patterson, Nolan Brown and Carson Kelly all in a row, forcing Southern coach David Lee to make a pitching change. Blake Harrington took over and got the Cavaliers out of the inning but not before Dylan Kelly hit a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0.
Southern (7-5, 6-3 TCC) switched to Jalan Jones on the mound for the fifth and the control issues also bit him. Jones walked three of the first four Lee batters he faced, and then BJ Brown scored on a wild pitch. Ethan Stanley made it home on a bunt by Cabe, and Cole scored on a wild pitch to make it 6-0 before the inning ended.
Southern had its best chance to score in the fifth, when Trent McBurnett led off with a walk, and a two-out double by Bouwman put them both in scoring position. But Carson Kelly got the next two outs without a run scoring.
Lee added one more run in the sixth and two in the seventh.
Bouwman and Jones, batting third and fourth in the Cavaliers' lineup, had two hits each, but the rest of the team had just one hit. For the Yellow Jackets, Dylan Kelly went 2-for-3 with three RBI, but no one else had more than one hit. Where Lee did most of its damage was with plate discipline, earning a remarkable 15 bases on balls. Cole reached base every time he came to bat, going 1-for-1 with three walks, and scoring three times. Carson Kelly didn't get a hit, but also walked three times.
The teams will conclude their regular seasons against one another on Friday night at 7 p.m. at Lee County.