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Longhorns pull off huge upset over Unicoi

Even with gloomy weather it was an exciting night in Erwin on Tuesday as the Johnson County Longhorns took to Baxter Field for the second time this season. Johnson County had worked very hard to prepare for their bout with the Unicoi County Blue Devils and thanks to a spectacular effort from the pitcher’s mound, managed to pull off a huge upset with a very narrow 1-0 win.
This makes only the second time in school history that Johnson County has defeated Unicoi in baseball. In typical fashion, the Longhorns made the biggest gains in the first inning, landing their one and only run for the evening. Short stop Judd Hammons kicked off the game with a double down the left field line before advancing to third on a wild pitch. Hammons was finally able to cross home plate thanks to a ground ball from Dusty Stout that ultimately resulted in an out, but also an RBI for the left fielder.
The third at bat, Harley Reece, worked his way to third base after taking first off a hit and advancing due to a walk on Jacob Henson. That hit loaded the bases up as Ryan Mahala advanced to second, but a strikeout for Ryan Smith signaled the third out for the inning, eliminating the possibility of a big sweep. With the exception of a grab by Chad Hodgkiss after stealing second base in the fourth inning, the Longhorns were unable to gain offensive ground for the remainder of the game.
Fortunately Johnson County put up an intense defensive game. Pitching all seven innings, Ryan Mahala pulled off an amazing display of skill, throwing out 124 pitches, while surrendering only six hits, walking three, and striking out eleven Blue Devil batters. Even though they are known as an offensive team, Mahala was able to shut Unicoi County down, striking out the very first two batters consecutively and keeping a steady stream throughout the game.
Those that Mahala weren’t able to take care of were largely put out by strong action from the infield. Although Unicoi landed six hits in all, very few made any distance. Despite making it as far as third base twice during the game, Unicoi was simply unable to get their much needed run.
As the game wore on the Longhorns became more and more tense, building to an explosive seventh inning. With Johnson County still ahead one to nothing, Unicoi came up to bat for the last time in the game. Pitcher Brandon Foy quickly fell victim to Mahala’s fast ball, giving the Blue Devils their first out off their first at bat.
The next batter, Hunter Goddard, landed a single that gave him first. Austin Green, the third Unicoi County batter almost dashed Johnson County’s hopes with a double to the right center gap. The hit allowed Goddard, now on third, to make a run at home plate, but in a very smooth play, Johnson County’s Andy Stout managed to field the ball at the fence and fire to first baseman Daniel Helm. Helm then quickly threw to catcher Ryan Smith, cutting Goddard at the plate and delivering the Blue Devils their second out.
After such a close save, the Longhorns were on edge as Unicoi’s Timmy Green stepped up to bat. With two outs, and a runner on third, fans and players alike knew that the next few moments might mean the difference between disaster or victory. Yet, as Coach Pete Pavusek pointed out, the pressure might actually have been to Johnson County’s advantage. “It kind of puts their offense up against the wall when you have a runner on third and two outs. It puts the batter to thinking I’ve got to get a hit now rather than a fly ball or a ground to the right side and moving the runner in.”
Thankfully that theory proved very true and Mahala was able to pull one more quick save for the team with a pop out to Judd Hammons that brought in Unicoi’s final out and the end of the game.
Preventing the Blue Devils from crossing home plate even a single time, the Johnson County Longhorns were definitely given a reason to celebrate. “There’s just not a lot of wins that come off that field,” said Pavusek. “It’s just a tough place to play and hard place to win at, but the boys played well. There was a lot of great defense with excellent pitching by both sides. It was a great game to watch.”
With this momentous win, the team is now over .500 for the first time this season, and considering the up and down nature of the year so far, can proudly boast of winning two Three Rivers Conference games in a row. More importantly, the win proves that with a lot of determination and a little luck, even one of the best teams in the conference is not unbeatable.
Final Score: Johnson County 1, Unicoi County 0