By Tim Chambers
Johnson County’s championship softball game against Cloudland featured more hits than a Garth Brooks and George Strait CD combined on Tuesday night at Bob Kirksey Field. And for the second straight year it was the Johnson County Middle School Lady Longhorns doing the victory “dance” when the final out was recorded.
They outlasted the Lady Highlanders 22-18 to claim the Little Watauga Conference Tournament Championship in a game that lasted over three hours. But nobody was in a hurry to leave the park when it was all over.
JCMS’ head coach Greg Reece appeared drained after the final out was recorded. He watched his team jump on top 10-1 only to see Cloudland come back and go in front 14-13.
“I really don’t know what to say about the game, except that this group of players never quit playing,” said Reece. “We knew it would be a battle, even when we had the big lead. We knew Cloudland would not quit. They are too good and too well coached to quit.”
The Longhorns wasted no time getting on the board, scoring twice in the opening frame.
Emmy Miller slapped a triple that scored Maddi Edington who had singled. The speedy Miller raced home on a heads-up play after Cloudland let the ball skip free in the infield.
The Highlanders got an RBI double from Kaylen Fields to plate their first run, but they couldn’t cool off the red hot Horns.
They batted around in the second inning that led to five more runs.
It all started with a pair of walks and a hit batter that loaded the bases. Cassidy Lakatos earned an RBI with the third walk in the inning. Jayla Gregg did the most damage with a towering triple that cleared the bases, giving JCMS a 6-1 advantage.
Cloudland finally escaped the inning, but not before Sydni Potter’s run scoring base hit that made it 7-1.
The Longhorns nearly blew the game open by scoring four runs in the third inning to go 11-1.
A perfect bunt by Paige Knight came after Faith Walsh had led off with a walk. Miller continued her stellar play by roping a two-run double to make it 9-2. Lakatos and Gregg followed with back-to-back RBI triples that upped the ante at 11-2. Yet the Highlanders fought back to stay in the hunt.
They tallied three runs in the bottom half to make it 11-4 and followed that up with a six-run fourth to close the deficit at 11-10.
Krista Bare’s three-run double provided the damage in the third inning. Some Longhorn miscues along with two walks and an error opened up the floodgates for their six-run fourth.
Gregg slammed her second triple of the game in the fifth to plate another run. She later came home on a wild pitch that extended the lead back at 13-10.
The Highlanders showed their savvy by scoring four times in the bottom half to take their first lead of the game at 14-13.
Reece said his team stuck to the script even after they lost their big lead and got down by one.
“We had a game plan and a good idea of what we had to do to win this thing,” added Reece. “We knew we had to set the tone early and that we had to make Cloudland defend the entire field. We made a promise to our players and coaches that no coaching staff in this conference or system would work harder than we would to put them in position to win. We did this before the season began. We went through every scorebook, watched film and came up with what we believed gave us the best chance to win. We were pretty close for the most part, but there will always be surprises. Our girls believed in the plan, and more importantly they believed in each other. The bench kept it going all night. The girls were supportive of each other. It is really hard to complain when your team can pull together like this. This was definitely a team win.”
Credit Reece and his coaching staff for staying in the game after Cloudland’s remarkable comeback.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week’s Tomahawk.