Warriors take measure of Elizabethton

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR STAFF
mbirchfield@starhq.com

   If early indications are a sign of good things to come, then Happy Valley looks to be in the prime spot to make a run in baseball this season.
   The Warriors enjoyed a shortened, five-inning 13-3 victory over Elizabethton on Saturday as their contact with the bat was often and effective.
   "We just need to put the ball in play, and then make the plays," said Happy Valley coach Greg Hyder. "I'm really excited about hitting the ball. We hit some balls hard at them early and things didn't work out, but we hung with it.
   "I thought we hit the ball well all the way through the line-up."
   It took the Happy Valley three innings before the flood gates opened as the Cyclones played them tough until making a few mistakes.
   Happy Valley struck first after a throw from shortstop went past the first baseman, which allowed Ricky Morgan to score.
   Elizabethton answered in the top of the third off a passed ball with Nathan Bishop crossing the plate.
   In the bottom part of the frame the Warriors began to hit stride, after the Cyclones loaded the bases from committing two errors.
   "We played good and I thought my sophomore pitcher Adam Grindstaff threw a heck of a game, but we just booted two or three behind them," said Elizabethton coach Steve McKinney. "When we do that, we kind of go all to pieces, but I think we were tired. We played late last night and ran out of pitching."
   Sophomore sensation Todd Caldwell was phenomenal at the plate, as he ripped a two-run shot to right field, which drove in pinch-runner Ryan May and Ryan Garland.
   Caldwell finished the night by going 3-of-4 with the bat. He had two doubles and ended with five RBIs.
   "I haven't got as much work in the cage as I would have liked so far this year, but in games I work real hard at it and work on fundamentals in trying to hit the ball," said Caldwell. "We know what we got to do to become a great team. We just want to come out and hit the ball this year -- that's our number one thing to do."
   Two more runs were collected when Tim Whaley smacked a grounder to right field that brought home Morgan and Caldwell.
   Warrior pitcher Shannon Buchanan held the Cyclones to just one hit through the first three frames, and finished the evening with five strikeouts.
   "I rolled my ankle a couple of days ago, and the coach wouldn't let me play yesterday, so I sucked it up and pitched a pretty good game today," said Buchanan. "We're hitting the baseball well, and we're making a few mental mistakes here and there, but we'll pick it up when it comes time."
   After Elizabethton came up short in the top of the fourth with runners left on second and third base, the Warriors converted with two more runs in the bottom of the frame.
   A hard shot to the right field wall from Caldwell drove home May and Garland once again to give Happy Valley a 7-1 lead after four innings.
   Elizabethton came back in the top of the fifth to score two runs and trim the Warrior advantage.
   A sacrifice bunt from Bishop allowed Ryan Kennedy, who led off the inning with a double down the first-base line, to come home.
   Bishop was able to reach base off an error on the throw to first, and would eventually score on a ground hit from Travis Bowers.
   The rally didn't last long for Elizabethton, as Happy Valley decided it was time to take care of business and end the contest.
   "We needed this early and I think we need this every year because we need this kind of atmosphere before we start our conference race," said Hyder. "I'm really proud of them. They played with a lot of intensity and effort. We have to keep that up."
   The Warriors connected on five hits to score six runs in the final inning, as the first two runs crossed after a couple of wild pitches were thrown.
   Garland, Morgan, and who else but Caldwell all connected on hits to drive home scores with two runs needed to end the game.
   After going hitless the entire way, Ryan Toney stepped up to crush a double to left-center field, which brought in Morgan and Caldwell for the Warrior victory.
   "I told the older kids that this is our last go-around, and we've got 27 more games to go," said McKinney. "It's still young in the season, and I think it we'll be a better baseball team. This bunch will bounce back and they'll pick themselves up for it's not the end of the world just yet."