Elizabethton bungles way to 11-4 conference loss

By Ivan Sanders

STAR CORRESPONDENT
isanders@starhq.com

   The circus wasn't in town on Tuesday, but with all the juggled baseballs on Cougar Field, no one was for sure.
   Elizabethton, looking to move up in conference play, committed a total of 12 errors in a game that was as ugly as the stats in a 11-4 loss to the Central Cougars in Watauga Conference play at Sullivan Central High School.
   "I just don't know what the problem is," stated a very frustrated Cyclone head coach, Steve McKinney. "I told the seniors that the games are winding down for them in their careers, but they just haven't stepped up to lead this team."
   B.J. Miller got things rolling for the Cyclones with a single that fell in front of a diving Cougar center fielder. Travis Bowers drilled a pitch toward center that bounced over the outfielder's head for a triple and a RBI for Bowers.
   Justin Williams reached on a dropped third strike, but Bowers was caught in no-man's land trying to score on the passed ball. Central pitcher Dustin Cox did a good job of working out of the inning to prevent further damage.
   Elizabethton gave the Cougars some big breaks in the bottom of the first. Daniel Skelton reached on an dropped ball by the Cyclone first baseman, Joseph Taylor. Skelton scored on a RBI single by Josh O'Dell.
   O'Dell swiped second and was driven home by a single off the bat of Adam Hardin. Chris Moore reached on a throwing error by third baseman Justin Williams, but 'Clone pitcher Joseph Vines caught Moore leaning and gunned to Taylor whose relay to second nabbed Moore.
   Michael Porter led off the second with a single and catcher Jordan Bray drew a base on balls from Cox. Taylor went down on strikes and Porter was thrown out trying to steal third on a controversial call. Jeremy Hodge flew out to end the frame.
   Vines pieced together a nice second inning of work for the Cyclones. The junior hurler enticed fellow pitcher Cox into a ground out. Designated hitter Brian Jackson reached on a double, but was washed out as Cougar catcher Phillip Benfield lined a shot to Miller at second who flipped over to Bowers at short to force Jackson.
   Miller took a Cox offering to right field for a triple to open the third frame for the Cyclones. After Bowers went down on strikes, Williams drilled another triple to almost the same location as Miller's to add one to the 'Clones tally sheet.
   Williams was left hanging as Brandon Collins was sent to the pines looking and Daniel Range grounded out to end the top of the third with the score tied at 2-2.
   Central responded in the bottom of the inning as they used three errors and two singles to score four runs in the frame. Moore and Cox recorded the hits off Vines in the frame with the Cougars taking a 6-2 advantage after three.
   "I have always told our guys we were going to take advantage of what the other team gives us," said Central head coach Brandon Krantz. "Dustin did a good job on the mound and we hit the ball well today to take advantage of what Elizabethton gave us."
   EHS managed to cut the margin by two in the fourth as Porter led off with a double, with Taylor and Bray bagging singles to plate the runs. Pinch runner Mitchell Blevins was caught stealing and Hodge looked at a called strike three for the Cyclones first two outs.
   Miller reached on an error by the Cougar third baseman before Bowers closed the frame with a ground out to short. The score after the top of the fourth was 6-4 in favor of Central.
   The Cougars fourth didn't start out too productive as Skelton was hit by a Vines offering. Two quick ground ball outs appeared to be the start of the end before the Cyclones self-destructed.
   Four Cougar base runners crossed the dish with two outs on four singles and three errors by the Cyclone defense. What should have been an easy inning turned into a nightmare with the scoreboard now showing 10-4 after four complete.
   Williams picked up his second extra-base hit of the game with a double to begin the fifth. Williams hit was the extent of the Cyclone offense as Collins fanned while Range and Porter tapped out on the infield to shut the door in the frame.
   Vines finally had an easy set as his defense sucked up three easy ground balls for the first three up and three down inning of the contest. The Cougars were cruising with the six-run edge.
   EHS could do little to capitalize on the short frame as they had barely hit the pines before having to retake the field.
   Cox nailed Jordan Bray, putting the lead off hitter on for the Cyclones. Taylor then grounded into a picture perfect 6-4-3 double play to erase Bray.
   Hodge hit a roller that the second baseman easily handled for out number three in the inning.
   Central added one more run to their column in the bottom of the frame. Hardin and Moore each picked up a single with Hardin scoring on two more Cyclone miscues.
   Elizabethton, with all the air taken out of their sails, went quietly in the final stanza with the Cougars picking up another important conference win.
   "There are definitely going to be some changes made in the lineup," stated McKinney. "There's no excuse for making 12 errors in a ballgame."
   The Cyclones will be playing Greeneville in the Crockett Invitational at 6 p.m. today.