The Lady Longhorns softball team came into the conference tournament at Elizabethton High School with a lot of wins under their belt and a solid reputation for pulling off victories against some very tough opponents. Ranked third overall after Elizabethton and Unicoi, Johnson County was paired off against the Sullivan North Lady Raiders in their first round, with most fans expecting and easy win.
Having soundly beaten North twice earlier in the season, there was plenty of optimism and possibly just a little over confidence in passing through the first round unscathed. Softball is a very unpredictable sport, and even more so when a tournament run is on the line, and after the very first inning the Lady Longhorns began to realize they might not be dealing with quite the same team they faced earlier in the year.
Johnson County was the first up to bat, receiving a quick initial out from a grounder back toward the pitcher. Ashley Arnold was the next up to the plate, landing a short hit that gave her first, only to be caught out on the way to second. Just as quickly, Jayme Jennings received the third out another short hit back to the pitcher.
Starting slow on the offense, the Lady Longhorns knew they had to hold North on the defense, but as the first of the Lady Raiders stepped up to the plate things took a dramatic turn for the worse. Gaining a hit to first, North soon had a runner on third as a Johnson County error gave the second batter in the lineup a chance to take a base as well. A following walk soon had the bases loaded, and with a huge double into center field, North gained the momentum with a two run lead.
Freshman pitcher Brianna Snyder was able to take control of the situation during the second inning, throwing the second of seven strikeouts and helping to make two notable plays. Even more remarkably, Snyder was able to largely repeat this performance for the next two innings as well, holding the Raiders at two runs. Yet, after being shaken by such an aggressive first inning, Johnson County couldnt seem to land much contact on the offense.
Despite a couple of notable hits from Hope Nelson, Linnea Yongue, and Haley Miller in the second and third, the Lady Longhorns were just as ineffective at making an advancement to offset Norths lead. Our hitting was not where it needed to be, said Coach Dana Smith. We had nine hits but they were at different times and we left people on base. We needed to hit earlier in the game instead of later in the game. We should have hit all the way through. We just didnt take care of business with the bat. I also think that we werent focused enough or aggressive enough during the game. Had we been aggressive it would have been a different outcome. We just did not give everything we had on the field.
Things picked up a little starting in the fourth with a couple of walks on Hope Nelson and Haley Miller that finally allowed Johnson County to make some progression. Both of those runners were batted in from an amazing double in to right field from Kristin Roark, ultimately giving her third before being left on base by a third out. Now tied at 2-2, North made an effort to show their aggression once again but was thankfully held at bay from a combined effort between Snyder on the mound and the catchers in the infield.
The Lady Longhorns had even more luck in the fifth, this time pulling ahead with three runners after a big hit from Kelsey Duperry, a walk on Hope Nelson, and a double for Brianna Snyder that ultimately ended up earning her an RBI. Kristin Roark was also able to take first base on a hit along with Abby Reece from a bunt, but both of those runners were once again left on base after a quick play from North.
Unfortunately for Johnson County, the Lady Raiders have been improving substantially, and this second sweep did not carry over into the sixth. Their pitcher was on, Coach Smith said. Defensively they moved some people around and apparently it worked. We did not play up to our potential while they did. They deserved to win, hands down. They were aggressive and we werent. We were taking one game at a time and we knew what the bracket looked like as a whole, and I really think that we were just not ourselves and didnt take care of our business like we normally do.
Even so, by the end of the sixth Johnson County was still ahead 6-3 and fully expecting to pull out a win. The Lady Longhorns were once again the first to step up to the plate coming into the seventh but quickly struck out their first batter. Kristin Roark was next in the lineup, making a cut toward first that was quickly caught to deliver a second out. Abby Reece was the final batter of the game, making contact with a lot of height and distance, but was also caught out by the left fielder.
Even with this unsuccessful last inning there was still plenty of reason to believe that Johnson County would walk out victorious. North opened up with a huge double only to be followed by two more hits that eventually loaded up the bases. With the fourth batter landing another critical double, Johnson County was forced to watch as their third run lead dwindled to just one run and then eventually tied.
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