By Jonathan Pleasant
The Lady Longhorns continued to impress last week, pulling out extremely strong wins at home against the Cloudland Lady Highlanders and the Sullivan North Lady Raiders. A third round Thursday night against Elizabethton proved to be a little less satisfying, but only served to make a narrow Junior Varsity win afterwards, that much sweeter.
I think they are doing very well right now, said head coach Dana Smith. You want your team to do better the closer you get to district tournament and thats been our goal this year, to play well at district tournament. I think that the progression that weve seen and the things that weve been doing are right on track.
A relatively young program, the Lady Highlanders were largely a big question mark coming onto the field Monday night, but after a slow start, actually gave the Lady Longhorns a run for their money. We played them years ago, but its been a while, Smith said. They wanted to add us to the schedule because we are so close and I had no idea how good they were or anything, but I did know that they had been in a couple of tournaments. Theyre trying to build their program and that is the way you do it, by gaining every little bit of experience.
Sophomore, Hope Nelson pitched the full seven innings, striking out four batters in the first two alone. By the end of the night three more batters fell to Nelsons prowess on the mound, with a total of 66 strikes overall. Those that did manage to get by were most often put down by quick action on the defense. Senior Haley Miller continued her spot at catcher, while fellow seniors Kristin Roark and Ashley Arnold did very well at first and second.
Cloudland wasnt able to gain a base hit until the third inning, which they eventually turned into a run just before receiving their third out. The Lady Longhorns were having a little luck on the offense as well, with both Ashley Arnold and Abby Reece landing back-to-back hits in the first, before advancing on a big double from Jayme Jennings that earned her two RBIs.
Jennings went on to earn a run of her own in the sixth inning, but not until after Johnson County went into a troubling two inning dry spell that saw only one run, this time from Kourtney Tolley who had just returned back to the game after injuring her elbow several weeks ago. The last girl that pitched was doing a really good job, said Coach Smith. I dont really know what was going on with that, but I needed my girls to hit. I was a little worried about my varsity because they werent hitting and the wind was just awful too. Once the wind died down both teams were doing better.
Hitting a strong seventh inning rally, the Lady Highlanders managed two runs and came close to four, but could not compensate for an earlier push from Johnson County that began with a single from freshman Brianna Snyder. Eventually Kelsey Duperry was able to reach home as well, along with a third run of the night from Abby Reece. In all this last drive allowed the Lady Longhorns to walk away with an 8-4 victory.
Our pitchers did an amazing job tonight, Smith said. To be as young as we are, everybody is filling their role and doing what theyre supposed to do. I saw that again tonight and I was really happy. I was just glad they settled down to play and did what they were supposed to do.
The second game of the week was an even bigger blowout, leaving Johnson County soundly victorious at 12-1 over the visiting Sullivan North Lady Raiders. A very young team with little experience, North had their hands full against a Lady Longhorn offense that was once again on top of their game, at least for a couple at bats.
Playing only five innings because of the huge lead, Johnson Countys success at bat was actually very sporadic. The majority of the teams runs were gained in the second and fourth innings with no real advances in either the first or the third. Yet, when the girls did go into a hot streak they did extremely well. According to senior Linnea Yongue, the game was one of the best she has ever played, gaining her two doubles that both eventually became runs, along with a narrow first hit that would have given her a three for three record.
It was a slow pitcher and Coach Mullins had us practicing against slow pitches, Yongue said. The first time I went up to bat I hit it to the second baseman and it looked safe but they called me out, so I went two for three and both of them were doubles, plus I had two RBIs. The success was especially significant for Yongue who, after playing her freshman year did not pick the sport back up until she was a senior.
I had my fair share of catching up, Yongue said. At first I was worried that I wouldnt do as good as everybody else because I had those two years off. But I came back and they were accepting. Theyre my best friends anyway so it worked out good for me. Im glad I got to play again and Im really lucky. I spend a lot of time in the hitting tunnel and on the field, but it was a great game for everybody.
By the end of the night every single batter in the lineup had managed to put in at least one run, with six in the second and six more in the fourth. On the other hand, North had an extremely difficult time against freshman pitcher Brianna Snyder who wound up with an impressive 11 strikeouts to her credit and no walks.
With both of these wins behind them, expectations were high as the Lady Longhorns took on the much more serious challenge presented by the Elizabethton Lady Cyclones. One of the toughest teams in the conference, Johnson County already held Elizabethton to a three-inning game earlier in the year, but regrettably the outcome was not as close this time around.
The game got off to a good start with Johnson Countys defense holding the Lady Cyclones to just one run in the first four innings. Abby Reece made an amazing catch deep in center field during the fourth, just one of several notable early plays. Unfortunately Elizabethtons one advance was off a home run that proved to be just the first of three on the night.
Kelsey Duperry was able to help her team level the playing field with a run of their own in the second inning, starting off with a long double into left field. A hit by Haley Miller helped advance Duperry to home, but a quick third out cut the rally short of any further progress. Battling neck and neck at one run, the game took a dramatic and troubling shift in the fifth inning that allowed the Lady Cyclones to make an amazing five-run sweep.
They came to hit and they were hitting everything we were throwing, said Smith. No matter what we threw, they were hitting it. Weve been there. Weve been in that situation where everything clicked. No matter what the pitcher was throwing we hit it. We did it at East. No matter what was happening, you just get in the zone and nothing affects you. We got a little uptight. We had some chances early to be on the bases and we made some base run mistakes early. When you do that it costs you, but we didnt take care of business in the box and thats what we talked about.
Where the Lady Cyclones first home run was relatively ineffective with no runners on base, their second huge hit caused a lot of damage, ultimately putting three more runners across home plate. As the hits continued to roll in, Johnson Countys chances of a win continued to go down. By the time Elizabethton hit their third homer, a grand slam, it was obvious that the Lady Longhorns were simply too far behind.
Pitching was split between both Nelson and Snyder, who Smith acknowledged were faced with a big challenge. According to the coach, The thing I told the pitchers was just do the best you can do. Try to hit your spots. Ive been in that situation; I know how hard it is. Its all on you. You cant crawl under the mound. There are times you want to crawl under the mound, but youve got to persevere and keep going. Had we hit with them we would have been OK. This group will bounce back, and the thing about them is that when you make them mad, I know them, and I dont think Id want to be the team that gets them next.
Ironically Smiths words proved to be very true when a newly revitalized JV team managed to go on and defeat Elizabethton later in the evening, putting up the one run they needed just as time ran out on the game.
Johnson County 8, Cloudland 4
Johnson County 12, Sullivan North 1
Johnson County 2, Elizabethton 11