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Horns defeat Cyclones in second round of the District 1AA Championship Tournament

The Johnson County Longhorns set a trend with their narrow win over the Sullivan North Golden Raiders in the first round of the District 1 AA championship Tournament at Milligan College. Coming into the second round against the Elizabethton Cyclones, who had already handed Johnson County several tough defeats this season, there was naturally concern about the Longhorns’ chances to advance.
Fortunately pitcher Ryan Mahala prove to be the Longhorns’ ace in the hole, helping to throw the Cyclones off balance offensively, while the Longhorns own batting lineup managed to drive in a very early lead. In the visitor’s position on the scoreboard, Judd Hammons was the first up to the plate for Johnson County, landing a big double into center field. Dusty Stout followed Hammons with a hit to take first, and consequently gained an RBI after Hammons chanced a run off of second.
The Longhorns continued to advance with a hit by offensive powerhouse Daniel Helm to take first and bump Stout to second. Working through Elizabethton’s defense, Harley Reece provided Stout the opportunity he needed to gain the Longhorns’ second run and moved Helm to third. After three balls and one strike, Reece finally made contact, but was caught out at first. Fortunately Helm took the incentive to make his run home giving Johnson County a third and final run for the game.
Ahead by three, Johnson County was not prepared to take any chances and the defense worked hard to keep the Cyclones away from home. A couple of defensive errors in the first inning caused some initial worry, but despite allowing Elizabethton to pick up one run, the Longhorns held strong. In nearly every inning in the game the Cyclones were able to make some progress, advancing as far as third base in the third and fourth innings, but through a combination of strong pitching by Mahala and a watchful eye by the catchers the Cyclones were prevented from making up the two run lead.
Pitching only got better as the game wore on and by the fourth inning strikeouts started to become a problem for Elizabethton. At the end of the night, Mahala had struck out six batters with a total 114 pitches and 76 strikes overall. When asked how he felt coming to the mound in such as high pressure game Mahala replied, “I was pretty confident. I knew it was going to be a close game. I didn’t know if we would win or lose. I knew that I had beaten Unicoi and East in the past and had pitched pretty well against them, but it all came down to my fastball and knuckle ball. I just kept throwing it in there and knew that our defense would back me up,” he said.
Coach Pete Pavusek noted Mahala’s strong performance as well; “Ryan did exactly what he has been doing all season, going out there throwing strikes. He battled and kept going, and kept them off balance for the last three innings with that knuckle ball. I thought he threw very well.” Yet, not to be outdone, both infield and outfield catchers handled the ball like pros. Shortstop Judd Hammons made some impressive saves, especially in the sixth inning, and Daniel Helm maintained strong control of first base throughout the game, stopping several drives that might have been base hits. Jacob Henson also managed to deliver a few big outs through catches in the center field.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.