Longhorns brush  back Highlanders

By Matt Hill

   The Johnson County Longhorn bats may not have been as loud as most teenagers' sound systems, but they made just enough noise to pull out a victory Wednesday.
   Johnson County heated up around the middle of the game to take a 7-4 win over the Cloudland Highlanders at Cloudland's baseball field.
   The Longhorns finished the afternoon with seven hits, but head coach Pete Pavusek thought the near-freezing temperatures caused both teams to struggle.
   "Cold weather," Pavusek said when asked what contributed to the lack of offense. "That was the bottom line. I don't think it was the pitching at all, we just weren't getting our top hand over. Bottom line was the cold weather, we just didn't hit it in the cold."
   Cloudland had only three hits on the day, but 'Lander head coach Jeff Bradley thought the weather was actually an advantage for the boys from Roan Mountain.
   "That was probably one good thing for us," Bradley said. "They've got some real good strong hitters. The ball was just dead today off the bat. That played into our hand a little bit."
   Bradley thought some defensive mistakes really hurt the 'Landers on Wednesday.
   "Once again, we made some mistakes out there," Bradley said. "Just mental mistakes really. It cost us a couple of runs, and things started snowballing from that point."
   Cloudland was leading 2-1 in the top of the fourth, but the Longhorns took advantage of some walks and fielding errors to score three runs to take
   a 4-2 lead.
   The Longhorns did the damage on just one hit, and didn't relinquish the lead after that.
   Johnson County's bats did wake up a little bit in the top of the fifth, as Chad Reece singled and eventually scored on a hit by Jon Arnold to make it a 5-2 Longhorn edge.
   Adam Johnson came up big for the Longhorns in the top of the sixth with a double that scored Michael Reid to make it a 6-2 game. The Longhorns added one more run on a Cloudland fielding error to make it 7-2 going into the bottom of the sixth.
   "We started to snap to it a little bit," Pavusek said. "We did pretty good. I was pleased with them."
   The 'Landers threatened in the bottom of the sixth, as four walks cut the Longhorn advantage to 7-3.
   Reece came on in relief of Junior Paisley with one out in the inning. He got James Gardner to strike out, but then walked Caleb Denton with the bases still loaded to make it a 7-4 contest.
   But that was Reece's only miscue. He got T. J. Lunsford to ground out to end the inning, then retired the side in the bottom of the seventh to secure the Longhorn win.
   Pavusek was very pleased with Reece's effort.
   "Chad does a real good job for us," Pavusek said. "He's a senior, and hasn't had a whole lot of opportunities to play. He did a good job for basketball this season, and he's doing a great job for us in baseball."
   Despite the loss, Bradley was pleased with the pitching efforts of Josh Johnson and James Gardner.
   "I was tickled to death," Bradley said. " This was a non-conference game, and I wanted to give Josh an opportunity to pitch and throw. He's a junior, and he needs some work for next year. He came out and threw some good pitches. I was real pleased. And James finished up real well.
   Reid had two hits to top the Longhorns. Denton had another outstanding game, as he had two hits for the 'Landers.
   The Longhorns take on University High this afternoon, and Pavusek hopes Wednesday's close call sent a message to his team.
   "Maybe we needed that," Pavusek said. "It was a little bit of a wake-up for us."
   Cloudland will also be back in action today against Watauga Valley Conference rival Unaka.
   Bradley believes his team will be ready.
   "We're relentless when it comes to bouncing back," Bradley said. "We've done it year after year. It's going to be interesting. If we're hitting the ball, we're going to give them a good game I think. If we're not hitting well, then we're going to have a hard time getting runs."