By: Matt Hill
If last Tuesday is any indication, the Elizabethton-Unicoi County stranglehold on the Three Rivers Conference (Formerly known as the Watauga Conference) may be coming to an end thanks to a dedicated and talented group of JCHS Softball players.
The changing of the guard has begun as the Lady Longhorns defeated the Elizabethton Lady Cyclones 6-0 at EHS in a game that has sent shock waves throughout the region.
After Happy Valley split for the Watauga Championship in 2004 and JCHS finished second in 2005 behind Unicoi County, the league the last five years has become a two-team race between Unicoi County and Elizabethton.
However, JCHS has let it be known that this team is not a fluke and that it is one of the best in this region.
The Lady Longhorns had not defeated Elizabethton since a regular season game in 2006 at the same field and the Cyclone-Blue Devil curse was getting old to the Lady Longhorns and Sam Mahala and the rest of the team did something about it.
At the plate, Eden Smith led a 4-for-4 effort, but on the mound Mahala pitched a game she will never forget as she had a perfect game.
The Elizabethton P.A. announcer congratulated her and she received a nice round of applause.
The curse of not beating the defending Three Rivers Conference and District 1-AA Champion was on Mahalas mind.
We were determined to win, Mahala said. Theres been quite a bit of talk about us not beating Elizabethton and Unicoi and I was nervous.
Mahala was dominant and her field that struggled last Monday in a loss to University High really stepped up and was absolutely clicking on all cylinders.
Though the JCHS softball family considered her one of the top pitchers in the area, Unicoi Countys Kara Woods and 2010 Elizabethton graduate Kadey Robinson have garnered most of the headlines over the last few years. Now, there is no doubt that Mahala is going to make a push to be the elite pitcher in the Three Rivers Conference.
Its a team effort, Mahala said.
Of course Mahala finally got the run support in a big game that she had desperately been wanting. The Lady Longhorns had 15 base runners with 13 being hits and two reaching on errors.
Our team did great today, Mahala said. We played as a team and if it wasnt for them I wouldnt have a perfect game. The run support made it a lot easier. All I had to do was go out there and do my job.
The unbelievable day Mahala had has her very grateful to her team and to God for this opportunity.
This is the best game Ive ever had, Mahala said. I prayed during the whole game and I want to thank God for it all.
The Lady Longhorn bats were hot on Tuesday as Rebecca Royston, Smith, Elizabeth Dugger and Miranda Payne all knocked in runs.
If the game ball could be cut in half, Smith would get the other half as she went 4-for-4 with three RBIs and also had the game of her life.
A solid center fielder, Smith also swings a big stick and she was very pleased with the teams effort in defeating a powerhouse program.
I was feeling really good, she said. I hadnt been hitting all that great, but this game I did really good and so did my other teammates.
JCHS struggled to a disappointing .500 season last year mostly because of the lack of hitting, but now JCHS is on a tear and the Lady Longhorns are swinging some mean sticks.
Smith admits this is something the JCHS girls have worked hard on over the off-season and its paying off.
Weve been practicing hard on it, Smith said.
Some of that hard practice has been in hopes of ending the curse against Elizabethton and now JCHS has a big monkey off their back.
It feels really good, Smith said. Theres no more curse now. I believe were one of the best teams in the Three Rivers Conference. I think we can go really far if we put our minds to it.
JCHS head coach Dana Smith deserves a lot of credit for turning the 2011 Lady Longhorns into a strong force and for helping to have this moment happen.
Smith has been the JCHS head coach since the mid-90s and was the coach during the glory years of the program in 2005 and 2006.
Though the two teams were very good, they did not dominate the Lady Cyclones like JCHS did last week.
Smith was ready to end the curse and is now looking forward to more memorable moments in 2011.
This win means a lot for them, Coach Smith said. The team I saw out there today is the team that played like I knew they were capable of. They have worked hard and theyre had work paid off. Its amazing to me what they can do because when they turn themselves loose and play like theyre capable of, you cant beat them on any given day. I truly believe that.
Though JCHS has believed they were capable of this moment, a lot of people in the region who follow softball were probably surprised when word got around that the Lady Longhorns had shocked Elizabethton.
I want people to say were for real, Coach Smith said. I want people to come watch us and these girls deserve some support. I believe this is a team that can go far. These girls also get along well.
Smith was extremely happy Mahala and the Lady Longhorns had this special moment.
No hitter, perfect game, the whole works, Coach Smith said. Hollie Harrison catching their ball secured it. It takes that bench being on the fence and it takes those nine players doing their job. This speaks highly of their character.
Their hard work and this day means a lot. Well enjoy it for a few minutes and get ready to go back to work.
In addition to Smiths great day, Mahala was 2-for-3 and reached on an error, Dugger was 1-for-4, Miranda Payne had a hit, Rebecca Royston had a single, Allyson Reece had a double and a single and Hollie Harrison had two hits for JCHS.
Sullivan East 2
The Lady Longhorns had the bats swinging well on Thursday as they avoided a letdown from their win over Elizabethton.
The Lady Longhorns had a big seven-run fourth inning and that propelled the Lady Longhorns to the win.
JCHS hit well again, tallying 15 hits on the day.
Ashley Arnold netted three doubles on the day, Rebecca Royston had two and Hollie Harrison also had a double.
Sam Mahala had two doubles, Elizabeth Dugger had a single, Miranda Payne had a single, Rebecca Royston had two doubles, Ashley Arnold had three doubles, Haley Miller had a single, Allyson Reece had three singles and Hollie Harrison had a double and a single.
NFS TOURNAMENT RECAP
The Lady Longhorns went 1-3 against a very tough field in the NFS Tournament in Erwin and had to face some adversity.
The Lady Longhorns defeated Volunteer 3-1 with the game-winning hit being a two-run double from Ashley Arnold.
JCHS started on the right foot Friday night in the nightcap against Elizabethton when Sam Mahala hit a home run, but then she had to leave the game due to illness.
Danielle Hensley came into pitch and gave an outstanding effort in a 10-9 defeat to the Lady Cyclones.
Eden Smith had a big night as she had a huge home run, but Elizabethton showed that theyre a pretty good hitting team as well.
On Saturday, the Lady Longhorns were down 3-1 in the seventh inning to Science Hill only to rally back.
Another big hit by Hollie Harrison cut the Topper advantage to 3-2 and the Lady Longhorns were ready to pull off a huge win.
However, Science Hill came through and ended up winning the contest.
JCHS was the No. 3 seed out of the Kiwanis bracket and ended up playing Unaka, a team it defeated 10-2 last week.
Unaka threw a different pitcher this time as Lacey Huskins went to the mound and she kept JCHS in check.
The dagger in this game was a three-run homer by Unaka and the Lady Rangers went on to win 3-1.
Though disappointed in their performance, the Lady Longhorns know they played several very good teams and it will only make them better as the season goes along.
We left runners on base and made a few errors and that consistency that weve been striving for all year alludes us every once in awhile, but most of the time were doing what we need to do, Smith said. Twice we hit all the way through the lineup, but the Elizabethton game we had two or three go without a hit and against Unaka we had two or three go without a hit and we have to have the consistency.
The reason we play these tournaments is to learn and weve learned a lot and were going to make it better. We want to play good competition and thats the only way youre going to get better. It does take an emotional toll sometimes if they dont answer the call and most of the time weve answered the call. A loss is a loss, but when you look at the whole picture, not bad at all.
The NFS will be good preparation for an even tougher tournament next week as the Lady Longhorns travel to Kingsport for the prestigious Eastman Invitational.
The Lady Longhorns are in a very tough pool, which includes 2010 Class A Virginia state finalist Holston.
We want to do everything we can so that we can go far beyond the regular season, Smith said. Its up to them how far they want to go.
STATS FOR TOURNAMENT
Volunteer game: Sam Mahala 2-for-3, home run RBI, Lizzie Dugger 1-for-3, Miranda Payne 1-for-3, Eden Smith 1-for-3, Rebecca Royston 1-for-3, Ashley Arnold 1-for-3 2RBIs, Allyson Reece 1-for-2
JCHS vs. Elizabethton: Sam Mahala 1-for-1, HR, Lizzie Dugger 2-for-3, RBI, Miranda Payne 2-for-3, RBI, Eden Smith 2-for-3, HR RBIs, Rebecca Royston 2-for-3 1RBI, Ashley Arnold 1-for-3 double, Haley Miller 2-for-3 RBI, Hollie Harrison 1 RBI.
JCHS vs. Science Hill: Sam Mahala had a double, Lizzie Dugger had a single, Miranda Payne had a single, Eden Smith had two doubles, Haley Miller had a single and Hollie Harrison had a single.
JCHS vs. Unaka: Sam Mahala had a single, Lizzie Dugger had two doubles, Rebecca Royston had a single, Allyson Reece had a single, Haley Miller had a single and Hollie Harrison had a single.
The Lady Longhorns traveled to Unicoi Tuesday, host Happy Valley Thursday and play in the Eastman Invitational Friday-through-Sunday.