After a tough loss against Unicoi earlier in the week, the Lady Longhorns got one last chance to improve their record in the final conference game of the season against Happy Valley. As head Coach Dana Smith explained, Johnson County had a lot riding on that final win. I knew that we were just going to have to play and play well against Happy Valley, Smith said. They beat us early in the season and we had to have that game. This was the game that was going to tell us what place we were in coming into the tournament. It was more pressure on me and Lisa than the girls were feeling but they knew it too. I think that once they settled down and just started playing they were ok. Pulling out a win was like taking a breath. It was like ok, now we gear up for the tournament. We can beat anyone in the conference in my opinion, if we just play and hit.
A nail biter all the way, the Lady Warriors worked hard to maintain a lead over Johnson County. Fortunately pitcher Hope Nelson was on top of her game, throwing out a whopping 100 strikes with five complete strikeouts. Yet, even the best pitcher has a few get through and those that did make contact hit hard. With one runner on base in the first, Happy Valleys Kiara Coffey landed a huge home run into left field that gained her two RBIs and started the Lady Warriors off with the lead.
Happy Valleys pitcher was not as focused as Nelson, and Johnson County was given a break with four back-to back walks. Eventually both Linnea Yongue and Ashley Arnold were able to reach home thanks to a later hit by Nelson, while Abby Reece was caught out leaving third. Picking up their last two outs before another runner could progress, the Lady Longhorns had to settle with tying up the score coming into the second.
Neither team made any progress until the third with Nelson striking out one batter in the second and the defense mopping up the rest. In fact, the same proved true in the next inning as well, with the exception of one long triple from Happy Valleys lead off batter that eventually allowed her to take home. Despite some solid contact with the ball, including a double from Haley Miller, the Lady Warriors one run lead continued all the way up to the fifth inning, when Johnson County finally gained the momentum.
I kept thinking during the game that its going to be the one who makes a move first, said Smith. It was going to be the first team to bust everything loose and it just happened to be us. We started hitting and we threw a bunch of hits together but it could have just as easily been them. But I think that made all the difference and we played a pretty solid defense.
Kelsey Duperry started the fifth off well, taking advantage of a Happy Valley error at the pitchers mound to reach first. Another double from Haley Miller pushed Duperry to third and now, with two outs against them, the pressure was on Brianna Snyder. Thankfully the freshman pitcher earned a huge first base hit into left field that gave her two RBIs after both Duperry and Miller completed their runs.
Snyder then went on to reach second base herself, following a hit by Linnea Yongue, and was finally pushed on through off another critical Happy Valley error at second base that gave Ashley Arnold first. Neither Yongue nor Arnold was given the chance to move on, as a final out at first ended the rally. Even so, with three more runs Johnson County was now back in the lead and fighting tooth and nail to hold on.
Needing the win just as much as the Lady Longhorns, Happy Valley put up an equally strong fight in the sixth, making an essential double that was given home off a single from the third at-bat. Johnson Countys defense stepped up and made some good catches, both from Kristin Roark at first and Jayme Jennings at shortstop.
Still feeling the optimism of their last turn at bat, Johnson County put the ball in to play again in the sixth with freshman Kelsey Duperry taking first and advancing on a walk from Hope Nelson. Duperry eventually made it on through to offset Happy Valleys last gain, but Nelson got caught on her way to third. Another hit from Haley Miller gave her the opportunity to ultimately take second, but she too was cut short leaving base. Added to an earlier out from a catch in center field and the Longhorns were left ahead at 6-4 coming into the seventh.
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