Cloudland tops Hampton behind Byrd two-hitter

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   The Cloudland-Hampton baseball game was just about the only show in town on Monday afternoon, but 'Lander pitcher Mark Byrd provided more entertainment than the hamster in the Blockbuster Video commercial dancing to the song "Maniac."
   Byrd pitched a two-hitter in Cloudland's 7-1 victory over the Bulldogs at Hampton's baseball field.
   Byrd, a standout football and basketball player for the 'Landers, showed in this game that he can be just as big of a threat on the mound.
   "He seems to excel at about everything he does," Cloudland head coach Jeff Bradley said. "He did a heck of a job out there. He didn't walk too many. We would get behind in the count, and he would battle back. He did a good job."
   Caleb Denton made life a little easier for Byrd before he went to the mound. With the bases loaded, Denton singled in Byrd and Josh Johnson to give Cloudland a 2-0 lead in the top of the first.
   The 'Landers produced runs throughout the game, and Byrd did an excellent job of keeping the Bulldogs in check.
   "They got the sticks a rolling, and I pitched a pretty good game," Byrd said. "Mark Barnett did good behind the plate."
   Byrd recorded 11 strikeouts on the day, and only gave up four walks.
   Byrd thought the run support he got was very big in this contest.
   "That was the key," Byrd said. "If we can hit the ball, we will be pretty good this year. If we don't, we're not going to be as good.
   Hampton head coach Scotty Bunton thought Cloudland did everything right in this contest.
   "We just got outplayed," Bunton said. "Cloudland played well. They hit the ball well, and did what they're supposed to. Byrd had a super game on the mound. We weren't swinging at anything he was throwing, so that helps out, too.
   "We hit a couple of balls hard, but right at somebody. They were in the right place to make the plays."
   Ryan Deskins came on in relief of Eric Swain, and had a solid outing. He gave up eight hits on the day.
   But three of those hits were by Denton. He had three RBIs on the afternoon, and knocked in an insurance run in the top of the seventh when he doubled to bring James Gardner home to make it a 6-1 'Lander lead.
   Bradley was very pleased with how Denton stepped up.
   "He did real well with the bat," Bradley said. "It seemed like every time he got up there he was hitting the ball. He did a real good job with the stick.
   Denton has really been working on his hitting during the preseason, and it seems to have paid big dividends.
   "Last year I wasn't hitting the ball as well," Denton said. "I've just tried to improve on the things that I wasn't doing as good. I just try hard in practice, and I've been working hard on batting and it's paid off."
   Cloudland did a very good job of running the bases in this one. The 'Landers stole five bases, with Byrd stealing three of them.
   "We decided this year we had to get a little more aggressive on running the bases," Bradley said. "Last couple of games we've left several men stranded on the bases. I felt like I needed to start moving them a little more on the base pads, and give them an opportunity to get a few extra runs in there. It paid off today."
   Hampton's only run came in the bottom of the sixth when Deskins' single scored Kevin Harrison to make it a 5-1 game at the time.
   Cloudland answered back with two runs in the seventh to cap off the win.
   Robby England had Hampton's other hit in the fourth inning.
   Bunton was disappointed with the outcome, but left the field with a lot of respect for Cloudland.
   "I knew this was going to be a good team for them," Bunton said. "And Jeff (Bradley) deserves it. They should be as good as any of them this year I think."
   Bunton is hoping for a better outing this afternoon when the Bulldogs take on Volunteer.
   "I hope we can regroup, come back and play better tomorrow," Bunton said. "Today we didn't know for sure if we were going to play. It was an iffy deal. You've got to get better prepared mentally to play this game, and I don't think we were mentally prepared when we came out here today. But it was the same for them as it was for us."