The JCHS varsity baseball team may have hit a dry spell over the last two weeks, but it has been a very different story for the young group of Junior Varsity players. After starting off the season slow, eventually coming out one and five from their first few rounds, the JV Longhorns began to hit their stride, quickly bouncing back to a five and five record after a series of huge wins, including one notable matchup against the David Crockett Pioneers.
The kids are improving, said Coach Nicholas Perkins. Theyre learning how to play our brand of solid high school baseball. Ive seen a lot of progress and that pleases me. Im just seeing a lot of freshmen starting to gain more confidence and learn how to play. That deer in the headlights look is starting to go away as they become more self-assured. Theyre learning how to execute defensive coverages, how to run plays, how to get signs on offense, how to get signs on defense. Theyre starting to believe in themselves as opposed to being timid and unsure.
The game against Crockett started out slow in the first inning, with the Pioneers putting up a run off a base hit that was advanced on a walk. Hindering the situation farther, the Longhorns were unable to complete a run of their own despite solid contact on the ball that eventually allowed junior Sam Thomas to reach third base.
Everything changed starting in the second, with many of the teams freshmen and sophomores stepping up to put the bat on the ball. Adam Worley, Nathaniel Graybeal, Logan Sergeant, and Blade Hampton all took base, eventually earning runs, while Sam Thomas landed his second hit of the day, a double into right field that gave him two RBIs.
Gaining momentum, the Longhorns went into another strong offensive push in the fourth inning, where Thomas once again made contact on the ball, driving it hard into center field. Unfortunately, that shot was stopped by Crocketts defense, but not before it gave Samuel Icenhour and Adam Worley the chance to reach home.
Yet, as much as he aided his team at bat, Thomas played an even more important role from the pitchers mound. Sam Thomas pitched a complete game, Perkins said. Hes continued to show that he is a dominant JV pitcher, one who is soon going to get the chance on varsity to show what he can do. We just feel like our JV program is very beneficial as far as getting players ready for varsity. We take JV very seriously here in Johnson County. Every high school baseball program in Northeast Tennessee doesnt do that, but we try to treat JV as the name says: a junior varsity. Many on this JV starting lineup will be on next years varsity starting lineup. We just try to take advantage of the kids that can play both because there is no substitution for repetition and game experience.
Thomas ended up earning four strikeouts overall, with 68 strikes total. Yet, even those that did make it through were more often than not shut down by players on the field. Several hits were cut short at first or third base while others were stopped by good catches in the outfield. As a result of this united team effort, the Pioneers were unable to gain any ground until the very last inning, when a trio of runs closed out the game at 7-4.
According to Perkins, It was a complete team win. Overall I believe it was one of the best JV games weve played in two or three years as far as execution all around. Everyone contributed. Nathaniel Graybeal had a hit, a couple stolen bases, a couple runs. Blade Hampton was throwing base runners out; Adam Worley was diving and making catches. It was a total team effort and thats how baseball should be. Its not like basketball or football and you can just give it to your star player. Whoever is in the box, whoever is due up, has to hit. Whoever gets to the ball on defense has to make a play. Its not something where you can isolate your star players. You need everyone to be able to contribute to have a good program.
Most recently the JV competed in a true slugfest against the visiting Happy Valley Warriors. Although that game came up one run shy of a win, Johnson County was still able to bounce back from a whopping 11 run deficit at the bottom of the third. After, putting up just two runs in the first two innings, the Longhorns exploded late in the third, with players nailing huge drives, including a double from junior Blade Hampton and a triple from Brandon Vannoy.
Making six runs in the third inning alone, the Longhorns were quickly on their way to making up for some of their earlier mistakes, eventually tying and surpassing the Warriors at 15-13 early in the sixth. Happy Valley was able to put up three last inning advances that went unanswered, but in the overall picture Coach Perkins was still pleased to see his young players battle back.
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