Horns upset Cougars for the win
By Jonathan PleasantIt was a real nail biter Tuesday night in Johnson County as the Longhorn baseball team played their closest game this year. Considering that the Sullivan Central Cougars are a much bigger and higher ranked team, an upset was big deal and even more so considering the Longhorns led the game from the very first inning.
Offensively Johnson County got off to a great start, leading off in the first with a hit from Samuel Icenhour followed up by another hit from freshman Daniel Livorsi. Those two advances paved the way for senior Sam Thomas to land a critical shot that not only put another runner on base but also gave Johnson County their first two runs of the evening. Thomas was eventually batted in as well, giving Payton Fenner an RBI and leaving the Longhorns out front 3-0 to start off the second.
Contact on the ball didn’t falter and the Longhorns saw another three run sweep in the three with seniors Thomas, Blade Hampton, and Jake Sutherland all taking first as well as freshman Nicholas Whitener. Sutherland was regrettably left on base at first, but the drive still went a long way to offset the Cougar’s single run earned during the second inning.
Yet as much as the win depended on getting runs it was just as crucial to keep Central away from home plate, a task that Thomas once again excelled at. Pitching nearly 120 times through all seven innings, Thomas claimed an amazing 74 strikes with six complete strikeouts. Even more importantly when Central started battling back right at the end of the game, the senior pitcher basically saved the day by keeping his cool and never losing his focus.
With the Cougars gaining five runs across the last three innings, Thomas faced a grim picture at the top of the seventh. Tenuously leading 7-6, Johnson County was forced to watch as Central came dangerously close to not only tying up the lead but also potentially pulling one runner ahead. Having already pushed through two batters on a hit and an error, the Cougars found themselves in a situation where they had two outs against them but also a runner on third and first.
The second out came after Thomas worked the batter to a full count only to have him make contact that was caught out at first. That left the fate of the whole game to come down to a single final batter, and Thomas was quick to throw out a first strike. The next swing found the ball, and with fans on the edge of their seats Adam Worley made a routine catch at second throwing it in for the game winning out at third.
When asked about his monumental win from the mound Thomas seemed relieved but just as steadfast as he had been when the pressure was on. “I’m feeling pretty good,” Thomas said. “I’m feeling happy about it. There was a lot on me. There was a lot of pressure on me but I was calm. It was like any other inning. I just had to make the pitches where they needed to be, but it was tough to do. With runners on second and third and two out, down by one run, yeah, it was nerve wracking, but I just had to get through it. It prepared me for another moment like that. Try to come up with the same results. I don’t feel too awful bad but it will be sore tomorrow. Starting off strikes, getting ahead of the batter, getting ahead in the count, that’s really the main thing. Hitting my spots and doing everything I need to do. We won the game but I don’t really feel like I performed at the best of my ability.”
Thomas’s own humble opinions aside, even head Coach Pete Pavusek had to admit that consistent pitching had a lot to do with the win. “Sam Thomas is kind of turning into a bulldog,” said Pavusek. “He just goes out there, battles and has a lot of heart. We’ve been waiting a long time for this guy to show up and now he’s here. We’re going to ride his back and hopefully he continues to do good things. It was big.”
The game might not have been quite so close if not for a few missed cues earlier in the game. Nathaniel Graybeal just barely missed catching a foul ball in right field at the very beginning of the seventh that might have prevented one of Central’s last runs, but as Coach Pavusek pointed out there are always going to be moments where you wonder ‘what if?’
“It put us in a tough situation but didn’t hurt us,” Pavusek said about the play. “You can look back on that and say he should have caught the ball, but well, we won the game and as long as we won we can’t dwell on it. I thought we probably could have scratched a couple more runs across and it would have been nice. We had an opportunity where we had Samuel Icenhour at third and Sam Thomas in the box. We wanted to go if we knew we could make it, rather than getting hung up, especially with a big hitter in the box and a chance to knock a run in. That was big. Then we left another runner in scoring position when we could have probably just come through it and got another run. A little more breathing room would have helped. Still, it was a good win against a quality team. They’re a AAA school, big seven, so we’ll take it.”