After fighting through a narrow loss against Elizabethton the night before, the Johnson County Longhorns found themselves struggling to stay alive in the second round of the district tournament. Facing the Happy Valley Warriors on a beautiful Sunday evening at J. Fred Johnson Stadium in Kingsport, spirits were high and attitudes positive as Johnson County took the field.
Logan Sargent took to the mound for pitching duties and threw out an impressive game with four strikeouts and 58 strikes total. As a result the Warriors didnt get past first until the third inning when an error at second allowed them to reach second. At the same time the Longhorns were having a little better luck offensively leading off in the first with a double from freshman Nick Whitener. Left on base, Johnson County didnt actually get in a complete run until the second when Jake Sutherland advanced on a huge double all the way to the fence from senior Blade Hampton. Like Whitener before him, Hampton was left stranded at second by a couple of quick outs, yet the hit was still good for an RBI and put Johnson County on the board 1-0.
The lead went up by one more run to start off the third inning as Samuel Icenhour took first on a hit by the pitcher and then strategically worked his way around the bases thanks to a couple wild pitches. Happy Valley took up some of the slack in the fifth, getting on base with a hit into the center and then advancing home on a double into left field.
Now trailing by one, the already close game started to really focus on the defense. The critical moment for Johnson County came in the sixth when Sargent faced many pitchers worst nightmare, the bases loaded with no outs and the game on the line. Fortunately luck and a lot of skill was on Johnson Countys side as Sargent made that last pitch which turned into an essential double play at first and third.
When asked what the key factor was in winning against Happy Valley, Coach Pete Pavusek laid it squarely on the teams pitching staff. It was Logan, most definitely Logan, Pavusek said. He pitched really well and then in the sixth inning when they got the bases loaded we got that double play. That was huge. That gave us a chance. We just brought Sam Thomas in with the save. He came out with the bases loaded, didnt throw that many pitches and got a save out of it. Sams been our go to guy all season, the only one weve been able to count on really, consistently.
As Pavusek noted, after Sargent dodged that last bullet Sam Thomas came in to an almost identical situation to finish up in the seventh. Again the bases were loaded but this time Happy Valley already had two outs against them and the Longhorns had managed to put up two more runs in the fifth to bring their lead to four. Still, a huge sweep could have made the win much more difficult but for a fast play to first after the Warriors batter hit a grounder back to the mound.
With that last out Johnson County could claim at least one win in the district tournament but were not yet done for the day. Having brought in Sullivan South to the conference this year, scheduling seven teams created a few interesting situations, such as a Sunday double header. Advancing meant that the Longhorns would move on to play the Cyclones for a second time, except that in this round Elizabethton was coming in fresh while Johnson County had just survived a grueling battle.
Its just the way it works out with a seven team bracket, said Coach Pavusek. Right now its survival. You have higher seeds playing lower seeds and back and forth. Thats just the way its drawn up. Thats the only way you can do it. You have to get them in. With a loss last night, one more and were out. Our backs against the wall. Weve just got to keep playing for a survival situation. Were in the losers bracket. Whether you like it or not, whether it benefits you or not thats the way it is. You just have to go out there and play.