Several members of the Johnson County baseball team and coaching staff were given the rare honor to compete alongside some of their conference rivals last week at King University in Bristol as part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) annual all star game. It was a battle between the states as players from East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia faced off for the first time. Johnson County JV Coach Nicholas Perkins took the helm for Tennessee, with some much appreciated help from fellow Johnson County coaches Ryan McQueen and Michael Icenhour as well as Milligans Chris Gordon. Also coming in from Milligan was Coach Brad Hill and Elizabethton head coach Joe Nix who spent their time getting the team together and working at practice.
With so many different players with diverse backgrounds, the coaches were given one opportunity to try to quickly pull the team together Thursday, officially kicking off the event with an extended practice session at Milligan College. With a successful introduction behind them, the actual game was played at 2:30 Friday at King. Perkins coached the 17 and under group, with a separate game being played by 18 and over, including recent graduates, which followed immediately after. Sponsored directly through the FCA, the games were also a unique opportunity to fellowship and share a common faith, a fact that Perkins was particularly proud of.
FCA understands the influence that athletes and coaches have, Perkins commented. They have always done a great job of using that influence to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It was an honor to coach this collection of good high school baseball players, but the most important part was the fact that they each received New Testament Bibles, and Michael Icenhour shared the Gospel with them Thursday night after our workout at Milligan College. The story of God offering forgiveness through Jesus has eternal importance. Baseball is only temporary.
Players were invited by their respective coaches with the Tennessee team being comprised of athletes from all over the region. Happy Valley, Hampton, Greeneville, Unaka, Elizabethton, Sullivan North, Sullivan East, and Unicoi all had members of their program on the team, alongside three representatives from Johnson County. Covering a range of time and experience, the Longhorns had senior Blade Hampton, sophomore Adam Worley, and freshman Nick Whitener on the 17 and under team, while veterans Daniel Helm and Judd Hammons stood in on the 18 and over.
I think all five Johnson County players that were there Friday represented our program well, Perkins said. Blade Hampton had a hit, threw out a runner trying to steal. Adam Worley made a few plays at second base; freshman Nick Whitener had a base hit at his only at bat. In the graduate/senior game Judd Hammons drew a walk, scored a run, and Daniel Helm hit a double. I was very pleased with our Johnson County representation.
At the same time, Perkins admitted that working with some of Johnson Countys biggest rivals, including Unicoi pitcher Austin Green, was a strange new take on the sport, although very positive in the end. This was the first all-star game I had ever coached, Perkins said. I joked around with the guys about teaching them something they would beat me with in the spring, so we kept it real simple and just let them play. There were some great kids, and they represented their schools well. It was just a great experience and something I hope to be able to do again in the future. I loved it and Id love to do it again in 2014.
Unfortunately, the game itself did not go in Tennessees favor. After going through a five-inning slump with no real progress, the only actual run came off a hit knocked in by Elizabethtons Hunter Hodges, who gained an RBI on Unicois Connor Simpson. Trouble at the pitchers mound was the only real saving grace for Virginia who came in with one run but didnt score again until the third when the bases loaded up off walks. Eventually four runners made their way home without making solid contact on the ball, giving Virginia a 5-0 advantage.
Tennessee fans were still hoping for a turn around even late in the game, and with Simpson on third and Johnson Countys own Nick Whitener on second, there was potential for a sixth inning rally. Regrettably after three tough outs, the turnaround never came and Tennessee was left a stinging 7-1 defeat after two final Virginia hits. Making up for this disappointing end, the second game of the evening saw a stellar performance by both Hammons and Helm who led the older team to an 8-2 victory.
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