Elizabethton takes conference opener

By Ivan Sanders
STAR CORRESPONDENT
isanders@starhq.com

   Coming into the season, the hype had reached a feverous pitch about the Elizabethton Cyclone baseball program after coming off a fantastic finish in advancing to last year's regional championship against Unicoi County.
   After dropping their first two contests to non-conference foes, the Cyclone program had to do a little refocusing and that they did as Elizabethton took a key conference opener against the Central Cougars on a field that they have not typically played well on in the past.
   Behind a total team defensive effort, the Cyclones notched a 3-0 win on Monday night at Cougar Field. Junior southpaw Zach Stipe pitched 4 2/3 innings of solid baseball while trying to overcome a bout with tendonitis to register the win with senior fireballer Joseph Vines relieving Stipe with one out in the fifth to keep the shutout in tack.
   "The thing I like about this win is it is on the road against the team that was picked second in the conference," stated Cyclone head coach Steve McKinney. "We still have got to play hard to earn respect and our whole team just played a great defensive ballgame in winning on a field that we have suffered some blowouts on in years past."
   Elizabethton broke the ice on the scoreboard in the top of the second inning on three singles off the bats of Jordan Bray, Adam Greenlee and Ryan Kennedy to take a 2-0 advantage against Central's Shane Jobe who pitched well despite absorbing the loss. Meanwhile, Stipe was pitching effectively in getting the Cougars to put the ball into play and allowing his defense to back him up.
   Particular showcasing a defensive prowess on the day was sophomore catcher Nathan Bishop, who recorded two outs on bunts in front of the plate and ringing one of the Cougar base runners up when the Central runner was trying to swipe second.
   Elizabethton added some insurance in the top of the third when Nat Treadway blasted a double and two batters later, Bray connected to pull one to the fence in left field as he recorded his second of three hits on the day with a double to plate Treadway.
   Vines came in and allowed only one hit on a seeing-eye blooper, but once again the Cyclone defense stepped up in support of their big right-handed hurler and helped him to put out the little fire the Cougars managed to start.
   "These games are important and you have to come in with the right attitude to win and we just didn't do it," stated Cougar head coach Brandon Krantz. "We didn't execute the way we are capable of and for us to win our guys need to step up and make the plays while scoring some runs. It's early yet so we will be okay once we get a few more games down the road."
   Elizabethton has a busy week and today the Cyclones will be in conference play once again when they travel to Hampton for an always tough contest against the Bulldogs.
   "I think our kids like playing on the road to be honest with you," said McKinney. "The kids are really excited about their first win after opening with two straight losses. Getting some of the senior leadership back was good because they are so good in the dugout and on the field with getting the guys fired up."
   Elizabethton ran its record to 1-2, 1-0 in conference while the Cougars dropped their season opener and stand at 0-1, 0-1.