Cougars claw Elizabethton

By Ivan Sanders
STAR CORRESPONDENT
isanders@starhq.com

   Parents teach their children it's better to give than receive, but in the game of baseball that proverb will usually end up costing a team a chance for a victory.
   Elizabethton proved that on Monday evening at Joe O'Brien Field as they gave a very good Central squad two "freebies" in route to being dealt a 3-0 conference defeat.
   "We gave them two runs on plays that could have been made," said Cyclone skipper Steve McKinney. "I guess I am from the old school where a pitcher lets the infielders take control of a fly ball, but I may have to change that philosophy."
   Cyclone pitcher Travis Bowers opened up the top of the first getting lead-off man Daniel Skelton and Shane Beaderman with little problem. Chris Moore then drew a walk and an easy pop fly looked to end the inning, but Cyclone third baseman Justin Williams had the ball hit the tip of his glove and bounce off.
   Having new life, Cougar shortstop Adam Hardin drilled a pitch deep to left-center field that plated Moore for a 1-0 Cougar lead. Bowers then set Central's first baseman down on a strikeout to end the frame.
   Elizabethton came out in the bottom of the first swinging the sticks, but the only problem was that the Cyclones were hitting it right to the Cougars. Miller and Williams were retired by the right fielder on fly balls. Bowers hit one that looked to be extra bases, but the Cougar center fielder made a good catch going toward the wall for the out.
   In the top of the second, the Cyclones once again were able to get two quick outs before the Cougars again rallied to put one on the board. Joey Watson was hit by a Bowers offering and swiped second base.
   Skelton drilled a single that allowed Watson to score from second. Beaderman then hit a ground ball that shortstop Miller handled to retire the side. The scoreboard read 2-0 Central after one and a half innings of play.
   Designated hitter Chris Hurt led things off for the Cyclones with a check-swing single. Daniel Range laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to push Hurt to second.
   Right fielder Michael Porter laced a sharp single to center. Hurt was waved by third base coach Johnny Burleson, but was nailed at home as Cougar catcher Philip Benfield had the dish blocked by a good foot and applied the tag on a perfect throw from Watson in center. Nat Treadway then grounded back to the pitcher to end the frame for the Cyclones.
   Moore led off the top of the third with a ground out for Central. Pitcher Garrett McConnell and Hardin had consecutive singles to put runners at first and second. Each runner advanced 90 feet on a passed ball, but Bowers rose to the occasion and came up with two big strikeouts to end the threat.
   Josh Irick led the Cyclone third off with a walk and was sacrificed to second by Jeremy Hodge on a nice bunt. McConnell then enticed Miller to go down swinging and coaxed fellow hurler Bowers into a ground ball to third to end the set.
   Bowers needed a easy frame and got it in the top of the fourth. The sophomore only needed three pitches to set the Cougars down one-two-three for the first time in the contest.
   The Cyclones returned the favor to McConnell as Hurt and Williams went down swinging and Range was retired on a lazy fly ball to center to close out the inning. The score stood at 2-0 after four complete.
   In the Cougar fifth, Bowers retired Beaderman on a grounder to shortstop Miller to open the inning. After surrendering a single to Moore, Bowers got McConnell to hit a one-hopper to Miller who beat Moore to the bag and then relayed to first in time to get McConnell for a six-three twin killing.
   Sputtering like an out-of-tune engine, the Cyclones were easy pickings in the bottom of the frame. Porter hit one a mile high that the Cougar first baseman put away for out number one.
   Treadway and Irick were retired on swinging strikeouts, making for an easy inning for the Cougars defense.
   The wheels came off the wagon again in the sixth for the Cyclones. Bowers made easy work of Hardin and O'Dell on balls tapped right back where they came from. Dustin Cox then ripped a double to right center.
   Benfield came to the plate and hit a fly ball in front of Cyclone catcher Irick. The ball hit the hard part of the mitt and bounced out, with the runner coming all the way from second to score the third run of the game for Central. Watson grounded out to Joseph Taylor at first to kill the rally.
   "We always like to take advantage of what the other team gives," said Sullivan Central Cougar head coach Brandon Krantz. "In a big conference game like this, you do what it takes to win."
   The Cyclones attempted a rally in their portion of the sixth after two outs in the inning. Bowers and Williams picked up back-to-back singles and Hurt walked to load the bases. Range hit a soft grounder that was handled by the Cougar second baseman to quench the fire of the Cyclones.
   Central loaded the bases once again with one out in the seventh inning before the Cyclones turned one of the toughest plays in baseball, a dandy 1-2-3 double play to get out of harms way.
   Needing a big inning, the Cyclones chances looked dim after two quick outs, one a strikeout by Porter and the other a force play on Treadway on a fielders choice on a ball hit by Irick.
   The Cyclones proceeded to load the bases, before Bowers hit a ball to center field to end the contest.
   Added McKinney: "We're not getting the hits when we need to and if these kids will step up and not let the pressure get to them we can win ball games like this."