The Longhorns faced one of the most talented teams in the conference when they came up against the Unicoi County Blue Devils last Monday in Erwin, so it was no surprise when the much younger and inexperienced team from Johnson County found it difficult to hold their own. Most troubling was the fact that even when Unicoi deviated from their typical stable of players like pitcher Austin Green, the new faces in the lineup were actually more difficult to deal with.
As head Coach Pete Pavusek pointed out, even though the Blue Devils turned the mound over to a freshman, he had more raw talent than Unicoi has seen in years. That Garland kid pitched well, really well, Pavusek said. Hes a young kid but he threw the ball hard, probably the hardest thrower weve seen this year.
Highlighting his abilities, Garland threw out 10 strikeouts against Johnson County, preventing the team from even getting on base until the third inning. A walk eventually got Daniel Livorsi started, advancing all the way to third on a huge double from Samuel Icenhour. Both were left on base when the Longhorns received their third out after senior Jake Sutherland made contact on the ball but was caught by the third baseman.
The Longhorns managed to get on base again in the fourth, this time on a short ground ball hit from Blade Hampton, but once again the runner was left on base with a strikeout. Walks became Johnson Countys only chance to advance through the next couple innings, with Livorsi and Nathaniel Graybeal both taking first in the fifth inning, while Johnson County finally managed a complete run in the fifth. That push came from Jake Sutherland with Jose Guzman serving as courtesy runner and doing a spectacular job of taking advantage of any opportunity.
Strikes and lack of contact in general plagued the whole game for the Longhorns, something that Coach Pavusek attributed to a lack of adaptability. Theres just different things that you do if you are struggling, Pavusek said. Maybe you saw six pitches and you struck out twice, so maybe Im taking it next time at bat. Sometimes you just have to catch up. Sometimes you have to go the opposite way with it, sometimes you have to look at a bunt. Blade did a good job laying a bunt down with a third baseman deep. Its just baseball smarts. There were different things that we could do to change it up, but well learn. Being young and inexperience youre going to have ups and downs. Thats just part of it.
The lack of offense aside, the Longhorns did have a fairly good showing on the defense. Jake Sutherland led from the mound with Logan Sargant providing relief. Both did fairly well, with Sutherland picking up two strikeouts among 30 strikes in two innings, while Sargant threw out 38 strikes and one strikeout after four innings. Unicoi made a couple of advances in the first that gave them two runs and another two runs in the second after landing a homer with one RBI. Those hits both came at the start of the Blue Devil batting order, leaving Johnson County to defend several more batters down the line.
According to Pavusek, Logan pitched great in relief, granted its easier to pitch when you are seven runs down and harder to pitch when its a 2-1 ball game. But, Logan pitched really well. Weve got a lot of work to do but well be okay.
The Longhorns held on through several hits and advances, saving themselves with some narrow catches and near misses although it wasnt enough to stop the Blue Devils from making three more runs in the third. Those runs put Johnson County at a 7-1 disadvantage and even though the defense was able to hold Unicoi for basically the whole second half of the game, the damage was already done. With no answering runs from Johnson Countys batting line the Longhorns were forced to settle with another disappointing loss.