Junior 'Horns cruise  past Happy Valley

By Marvin Birchfield

   There was not much to say other than the fact that Johnson County's middle school baseball team looked mighty impressive in its match-up with Happy Valley on Thursday, winning by a final of 19-4 at Cannon-Gouge Park.
   The Longhorns dominated the contest from the start, and a 12-run inning in the top of the second put away any doubt on how strong they could potentially be this season.
   "It's an experienced group we have -- we have nine eighth graders and three seventh graders, so I think that plays a big part," said Johnson County coach Julian Crews. "Unaka will be the strong team of the conference. They have a lot of good athletes and we're looking forward to the challenge."
   Happy Valley showed signs of trouble in the top of the first, when the first three Longhorn batters up were all hit by the pitcher. Devin Shaw then smacked a hit to score Luke Arnold and Adam Shelton.
   Johnson County went on to produce three more runs in the frame, as the Warriors put a total of six batters on base by either committing walks or striking the man at the plate.
   "Our original starting pitcher that we had planned to pitch had some disciplinary actions, so that threw a lump in the rotation," said Happy Valley coach Josh Wandell. "Our first pitcher, Hunter Peters, is a real good pitcher, but I just think nerves got a hold of him after he hit the first batter.
   "When he hit three I think nerves took over and we dug a hole we could never get out of."
   The Warriors got on the board in the bottom of the first, after a shot from Isiah Osborne drove home Garrett Dykes.
   Things fell apart for Happy Valley in the top of the second as the first 12 batters for Johnson County all crossed the plate.
   By the end of the first two innings, the Warriors had gone through four different pitchers before finally settling with Tyler Blevins for the last two.
   The Longhorns collected nine hits in the second frame, with the last one coming from Ryan Dollar to score Austin Paisley.
   Johnson County added two more run in the top of the third to go up 19-1 through two and a half innings.
   Hits from Josh Dow and Warren Hampton brought in Ronnie Roark and Ryan McQueen for scores.
   "Defense, the right hitting and pitching were all there, and we have a couple of seventh-graders. so we were just trying to work everybody and get them a turn at bat and just have fun," said Crews. "We're just trying to build up the program and get the guys ready for high school. I just want to thank all the boys, thank God, and all the parents -- they're very supportive."
   Happy Valley was able to load the bases in the top of third, but was unable to produce a run.
   The Warriors did find some success in the last frame as a hit to right field from Tyler Blevins scored Nick Payne.
   "We've only been on this field maybe three times, and we put the bat on the ball more than I expected, so I was proud of that and the plays they made out on the field in the last couple of innings," said Wandell. "I was pleased with their attitude out on the field, and hopefully we can build on that."
   Two more runs crossed when Dykes hit a grounder toward the shortstop to drive in Tyler Blevins, while Cory Blevins came home on a passed ball.
   "I'm proud of my kids," Wandell said. "They hung in and battled, and I think we can build on it. We're a better ball club than what we showed today. Johnson County's first pitcher was solid, and they made no mistakes, played pretty much error-free baseball and deserved to win the game by far.
   "I just wish we could have made it a little more competitive."