'Horns push Devils to 10 innings

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   MOUNTAIN CITY--The Johnson County baseball team almost made history on Friday afternoon.
   Again.
   The Longhorns lost to Watauga Conference powerhouse Unicoi County by one run for the third year in a row, this time dropping an 8-7 decision in 10 innings to the Blue Devils.
   Johnson County keeps coming up just short against Unicoi County, a school the Longhorns have never defeated.
   When the Longhorns made a furious rally after being behind six runs, Johnson County head coach Pete Pavusek thought Friday was going to be the day the streak ended.
   "I thought it would be," Pavusek said. "I was hoping it would be, anyway. It just wasn't in the cards."
   The Longhorns trailed 6-0 going into the bottom of the seventh inning, as they were having trouble hitting the baseball.
   That all soon changed.
   The Longhorns exploded for five hits in the inning, and when Adam Leonard knocked in Michael Reid, Johnson County was tied at 6-6 with Unicoi County.
   Johnson County couldn't complete the rally though, as relief pitcher Drew Anders got Manuel Price to fly out to end the inning.
   In the top of the eighth, Unicoi was in the driver seat again when Aaron Fender drove in Anders with two outs to give Unicoi County a 7-6 edge.
   But the Longhorns still didn't want to go home. With two out and one man on in the bottom of the eighth, Jon Westphal doubled to score pinch-runner Robert Rayburn to tie the game at 7-7. The Blue Devils did get the third out to send it to another inning.
   "They know how to rally, that's for sure," Pavusek said. "But it makes life in the coaching land a lot more stressful to say the least."
   The Longhorn defense took over in the top of the ninth, as Tim Peterson looked like he had knocked one out of the park to leadoff the inning, but leftfielder Joe Atwood made a spectacular catch to keep the game tied.
   That catch may have been big at the time, as the Blue Devils eventually put two men on base before Scott Galloway grounded out to end the inning.
   The Longhorns once again had two men on base in the bottom of the ninth, this time with no outs. But Anders stepped up and retired the side to end the threat.
   "He picked me up," Unicoi County head coach Chris Bogart said about Anders. "I made a bad call in the eighth and let that tying run score, but he came back and he picked me up right there. Between him and my catcher, they did a super job. I can't say enough about how they battled."
   The Blue Devils once again put together a rally in the top of the tenth. The bases were loaded for the boys from Erwin with two outs.
   This time, the Longhorns' magic ran out.
   A bobbled ball by the Johnson County second baseman with Matt White batting allowed Anders to score to give Unicoi County what would be the winning run and an 8-7 advantage.
   That was all the Blue Devils needed. Atwood doubled with one out in the bottom of the tenth, but Anders retired the side to end the contest and keep Unicoi's mastery of the Longhorns alive.
   "We battled back that hard, then it comes down to one little play like that," Pavusek said about the error that scored the winning run. "If we had hit when we should have, it wouldn't have even come to that."
   Pavusek was also scratching his head about the missed opportunities in the final innings.
   "We had our chances in the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth," Pavusek said. "We had runners on and couldn't knock them in. If we pick up a base hit here or there, we win the ball game."
   One man that pitched the duration was Johnson County's Jon Arnold. Arnold battled through some tough situations on Friday, and almost picked up the win.
   Arnold had a rough outing against Hampton on Tuesday, but performed admirably in going the distance against the Blue Devils.
   "I'm real proud of Jon," Pavusek said. "He kept us in the ball game, and gave us a chance. Every time he goes out there, he gives us a chance to win."
   Fender topped Unicoi County with three hits. Leonard also had three hits for the Longhorns.
   It was a game that will long be remembered by everybody who saw it, including Bogart.
   Bogart was extremely happy with his team, but was also proud of Johnson County.
   "I'm very proud of these guys," Bogart said. "They did a great job. We played hard and we battled, and so did Johnson County. That's one of the best comebacks I've seen a team have.
   "I'm really proud of our guys. We've been talking a lot about mental toughness and staying focused. We did a great job of that. I'm very proud of them. We've had two nailbiters here in a row, and it's a shame to see either team lose that. I tip my hat to Coach Pavusek and that bunch. They did a super job."