Cyclones start season with loss to Blue Devils

By Allen LaMountain

   Through two innings at Joe O'Brien Field on Friday afternoon, the Elizabethton Cyclones and Unicoi County Blue Devils played to a dead heat with neither team cracking the scoreboard.
   Then some indecisiveness on the Cyclones' part helped open the floodgates for a five-run Devil third and helped Unicoi County rout 'Betsy 10-1 in the Cyclones' home-opener.
   "We had some good things happen for us," said Cyclone skipper Steve McKinney. "Our three, four and five hitters did well and we got some good defense early. We are playing some young kids and they are going to get better."
   Joseph Vines got the nod to open things on the hill for EHS and some solid defense helped him out of the first frame. Devils left-fielder Darrell Roop opened with a sharp single to left and Andrew Garland drew a walk.
   Nick Garland then hit a pop fly to right that Michael Porter handled and Justin Benard hit a sharp ground ball to short. Cyclone shortstop Travis Bowers flipped to B.J. Miller at second and his relay throw nipped Benard to turn the twin-killing.
   In the Cyclones' second, back-to-back singles by Chris Hurt and Bowers opened the frame, but Jason Range forced Hurt at third with a ground ball to Daron Adkins, and Joseph Taylor went down swinging.
   Porter then grounded into a fielder's choice to end the best threat of the afternoon for 'Betsy.
   In the Unicoi third, things began to unravel for the Cyclones. Mike Manuel, the Devils' ninth-place hitter, ripped a double to left and Roop reached on an infield hit.
   Andrew Garland then hit a topper to third, but J.W. Williams, instead of charging the ball, went to cover third. Vines couldn't get to the ball in time for the force so the Devils now had the sacks juiced and nobody out.
   A single by Nick Garland plated two runs and Benard followed with an RBI single to center as Unicoi took a 3-0 lead. A Tim Patterson double to center plated two more runs as the Devils took a five run advantage.
   "We hit a lot of ball to the opposite field today and I was glad to see that," said Unicoi County head coach Chris Bogart. "That's big for us, because we talk a lot about keeping your balance when hitting. We like playing in a big park like this, it's a lot of fun."
   Vines managed to escape without further damage in the third, but the damage had been done.
   "We work all year talking to the pitchers," said McKinney. "(Unicoi) got five hits on oh-two pitches, and you can't do that. Waste a pitch, try and get the hitter to go after a bad pitch, but don't groove it in there."
   Nick Garland was masterful on the mound for Unicoi, hurling five complete innings of four-hit ball. Garland struck out six and walked one before giving way to Roop in the sixth.
   "Nick and Darrell both did well," said Bogart. "They just got back from basketball and really did a super job. They are both good pitchers with great arms."
   Unicoi scored a single run in the fourth, two in the fifth and two more in the sixth and unleashed a 15-hit attack against three Cyclone pitchers.
   Vines lasted four frames but was ineffective after the second inning as he surrendered 11 hits and six runs (all earned). Vines struck out two and walked two.
   Sophomore lefty Zack Stipe went an inning and a third giving up two runs on two hits. Stipe struck out three and walked one. Bowers also was thrown into the pitching mix and he pitched one and two-thirds innings, giving up one run on four hits.
   Leading the hit parade for 'Betsy was Chris Hurt and Williams, who both went two-for-three. In all the Cyclones managed six hits and scored their only run of the game in the fifth.
   Range drew a leadoff walk and one out later Porter singled to left to put runners on the corners. Jordan Bray struck out, but the ball got away from Benard, who had to throw Bray out at first.
   On the play Williams dashed home with 'Betsy's only run of the day.
   "This is not the end of the world," said McKinney. "We still have a lot of games left and we'll be all right if we believe in ourselves. We have to have confidence in ourselves and we will win our share of games."
   Cyclone notes: EHS will travel to Sullivan North on Tuesday for a 5 p.m. Watauga Conference matchup. Volunteer comes to Joe O'Brien on Thursday -- also a 5 p.m. start -- and the Cyclones close the week with a trip to Afton on Saturday to play Chuckey-Doak at 3 p.m.