By Tim Chambers
A hissing cobra couldn’t have struck faster than Johnson County did against Unaka on Friday. The Longhorns scored five times in the fourth and seventh innings to knock off top seeded Unaka 17-12 to reach the championship game of their conference tournament.
Johnson County unleashed a 21-hit avalanche against the Rangers and needed them all. Half of Unaka’s 12 runs were unearned due to the eight errors they committed.
But that didn’t tarnish the win for JCMS’ head coach Greg Reece who has played with a smorgasbord of seventh graders mixed in with a few eighth graders in his lineup.
“Our girls were excited about playing Unaka,” said Reece. “We didn’t play well the last time we faced them and that left a bitter taste in our mouth. The girls were focused on doing what we had to do, which was score runs in bunches to put the pressure on them. We wanted to force their infield back on their heels and we did that in our first two at-bats. I felt like that set the tone for the game.”
The Horns scored twice in the first inning after Maddi Edington led off with a single. Emmy Miller’s triple and a sacrifice fly by Cassidy Lakatos gave JCHS a 2-0 early lead.
Two costly errors allowed Unaka to tie the game in the bottom half but the Horns kept pecking away.
Sydni Potter singled to start the second and scored on Paige Knight’s sacrifice fly. Edington later smacked a two-out three-bagger and came home on Miller’s single to put them on top 4-2 but that lead was short lived.
The Rangers rallied for three in the bottom half to take a 5-4 advantage. Sadie Shoun and Kiki Forney had base hits for the Rangers and Kayley Wilson provided a single sandwiched in between two more Longhorn errors.
Yet the Horns never quit despite their defensive woes.
They scored five times in the fourth to go up 9-5. They continued to pad their cushion scoring three more times over the next two frames to up their ante at 12-5.
At that point the fireworks begin.
Unaka sent 12 batters to the plate in the sixth inning and scored seven times to tie the game at 12-12.
Shoun, Hannah Scott, Noelle Collins, Abbie Ruel and Kendall Bare all had RBI base hits, but back came the Horns.
They would answer five times with two outs in the seventh to go up 17-12.
Jayla Gregg had a two-run single that later proved to be the game winner. Haley Cox had an RBI single and Deanna Younce delivered a run-scoring double that enabled them to take a 17-12 advantage.
Haley Rider retired the side in order in the bottom half sending Johnson County into the championship game on Tuesday against Cloudland.
Reece could finally breathe a sigh of relief when Rider fielded a ground ball out to end the game in the seventh.
“Our girls came up with some clutch hits in that final inning and we ran the bases well,” said Reece. “We played smart and aggressive in the late innings. I am super proud of them.”
Unaka got the leadoff batter on to start the seventh but she was thrown out by Miller trying to steal second.
“That was a huge momentum killer,” added Reece. “That’s the type of plays that win you games. Emmy threw her out by three or four steps.”
Several Longhorns factored heavily in the win.
Miller had a banner day going 4-4 with three RBI’s and three runs scored. Edington was just as impressive going 4-5 with four runs scored. Cox raised some eyebrows going 4-4 with three runs scored. Gregg was 3-5 with three runs scored. Potter and Younce went 2-4 apiece.
Shoun, Forney and Ruel had two hits apiece for the Rangers.