Elizabethton escapes Hampton in thriller

By Ivan Sanders

   The Elizabethton team decided to drive their personal vehicles to their game in Hampton, but they had to ride "The Bus" in taking another classic conference thriller over the Hampton Bulldogs on Tuesday at Hampton's baseball diamond by a 4-3 score.
   Wes Greer didn't figure into the pitching record, but Greer who is known to most Cyclone players as 'Bus' managed to carry the team until Joseph Vines could finish chaining the 'Dogs over the last two innings.
   "Greer is normally my stopper, but I decided to give him the start today and he responded well by throwing over 80 pitches to get us in a position to win," Cyclone coach Steve McKinney said after the game. "Overall we had a great defensive performance from the team level again today and being able to beat Hampton here is again a tough thing to do because Scotty (Bunton) always has such a tough team."
   Early on, it was the Bulldogs that were putting the teeth marks on the Cyclones' behinds as Hampton jumped on top quickly in the bottom of inning one by recording two consecutive singles off the bats of Eric Swain and Josh Moss before pitching ace Kevin Harrison helped his own cause with a RBI single driving in Swain for a 1-0 lead.
   EHS tried to respond in the top of the second with Jordan Bray and Michael Porter collecting back-to-back base hits followed by a Trevor Hyder single after one out to load the base path. Ryan Kennedy bounced into a fielder's choice erasing Bray before Harrison managed to leave the bases juiced by retiring Mitchell Blevins on a strikeout.
   Hampton loaded the bases as well in the bottom of the frame on two base on balls issued to Dustin Crumley and Swain sandwiched around a base knock by Michael McCall. Greer used a combination of off-speed pitches and fastballs to entice Zack Trivette into a strikeout while getting Adam Miller and Moss to ground out to his defensive unit on the infield bringing an end to the threat.
   After holding the Cyclones to a three and out in the top of the third, Hampton added two more runs in their portion of the frame thanks mainly in part to a mental lapse by EHS. Outfielder Justin Waycaster reached on a walk and advanced as Cyclone second baseman Nat Treadway bobbled the toss from Blevins on an attempted double play on a Robbie England grounder to put 'Dogs at first and second base.
   Miller then hit one back to Greer who attempted to turn two on a throw to an empty bag at second allowing Waycaster to score and putting England on third after the two-base throwing error. Crumley brought England in on a sacrifice fly to give Hampton a 3-0 lead after three complete.
   With their backs against the wall, the Cyclones finally regrouped in the fourth as Bray reached after being pegged by Harrison and Porter collected his second hit to place Cyclones at first and second. Harrison attempted to pick Porter off and the ball went sailing by Brad Hodge allowing Bray to score. Hyder then plated Porter after hitting the ball to third baseman Miller who threw the relay toss to first over Hodge's head for another Hampton error and allowing the Cyclones to cut the 'Dog edge to 3-2.
   After Greer held Hampton in check in the fourth, EHS knotted the score at 3-3 after Treadway reached on a walk and scored on a Travis Bowers single. Each team struggled offensively until the seventh when the Cyclones began to make noise again.
   Leadoff hitter Blevins rocketed a shot to deep center for a stand-up triple. Cyclone catcher Nathan Bishop then lofted a ball to center field that appeared deep enough to score Blevins on a sac fly. Swain made a strong throw to the plate and Blevins was called safe on a bang-bang play by the home plate umpire that brought Scotty Bunton out of the Bulldog dugout claiming his catcher had the plate blocked and the run was a moot point.
   "I hate to see such a good ballgame hinge on a bang-bang play like that one because both teams played extremely well and I would rather see someone rip a hit and score the run uncontested than to have one come on a controversial call," said Bunton after the game. "I was really pleased with Kevin Harrison's pitching performance today because that is really the first time he has pitched since injuring his shoulder in an earlier scrimmage and he seemed to be in good control. Take away a couple of mental errors and we could have won this game."
   After the umpire upheld the call as right, the Cyclones found themselves in the lead 4-3 in the top of the last inning. Joseph Vines, who relieved Greer in the sixth with one out and proceeded to set the 'Dogs down in the frame, then worked a smooth one-two-three seventh inning to record the win to go along with a save from the previous night.
   Said Greer: "We never gave up and kept on fighting back. We wanted to win this game and knew we were capable; we just had to do it. It is a lot different when you start a game because you have to be level headed to hopefully last for seven innings, unlike coming out of the bullpen where you are full of intensity and adrenaline and can just let it all hang out. It was just a great team effort tonight."
   Elizabethton evened their record at 2-2 overall, but more importantly 2-0 in conference play. Hampton will be visiting Unicoi County on Friday for a tough game against the tradition-rich Blue Devils while EHS will be opening home conference play against a league darkhorse in the Volunteer Falcons at Joe O'Brien Field on Thursday at 4 p.m.