Cyclones corral  'Horns to keep WC record clean

By Ivan Sanders
STAR CORRESPONDENT
isanders@starhq.com

   The Johnson County Longhorns tried with all their might to stampede the fences at Joe O'Brien Field on Thursday night, but the Elizabethton Cyclones were able to rope the hard-charging boys from Mountain City, and in the process keep their Watauga Conference slate without spot with a 5-0 mark on the heels of a 4-3 victory that came in dramatic fashion.
   Starting pitchers Jon Arnold of Johnson County and Zach Stipe of Elizabethton locked horns early as both young men were definitely in a groove early in the contest. Stipe had the Longhorns off stride as the southpaw breezed through the first four innings without so much as allowing a sniff of the base path to Johnson County.
   "I didn't hit my spots very well today, but I was able to allow my defense to play behind me," stated Stipe after the contest. "I felt pretty good the first couple of innings and then I started to get a little tired as my arm still isn't where it needs to be."
   Meanwhile, the Cyclones appeared poised to cash in the second inning after Cyclone centerfielder Adam Greenlee laced a single with two down in the inning. First baseman Kelly Adkins then blasted a shot to right field, with Greenlee shifting into high gear to try and take third on the play.
   Jon Westphal, the Longhorn right fielder, had different ideals as he gunned a perfect shot to the bag in nailing Greenlee with plenty of room to spare to snuff out the Cyclone rally.
   After holding JC to a three and out, EHS once again tried to mount a charge in the bottom of the third with sophomore catcher Nathan Bishop roping a single with one out. Yet, Arnold and his teammates were up to the task as they managed to retire the next two batters after Bishop swiped second base to throw dirt on the flame.
   In the Longhorn fourth, Stipe continued to stymie the bats of Johnson County as he struck out two of the three batters he faced. Going into the bottom of the frame, the Cyclones realized that one run might determine the outcome of the contest and in an attempt to manufacture a run, EHS managed to plate three.
   "I was wanting to get us a little confidence with the squeeze play because I felt like I took us out of the inning when I got Greenlee thrown out at third," stated Cyclone head coach Steve McKinney. "A lot of people feel like you shouldn't squeeze with the bases loaded, but I felt good about the situation and Kelly did a great job of putting the ball in play and they made the error, allowing us to score another run.
   Travis Bowers started it off by ripping a single and advancing to second on a fielders choice off the bat of designated hitter Jordan Bray, who reached safely as well. Right fielder Michael Porter then executed a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance Bowers and Bray 90 feet closer to home plate. Greenlee then worked the count full before being issued a base on balls.
   With the bases juiced and the go ahead run standing at third, McKinney rolled the dice as he gave Adkins the squeeze sign. Adkins did his job as the junior laid the ball down the first base line where it was fielded by Arnold, who proceeded to throw the ball over his first baseman's head, allowing Bray to score the second run of the inning and Greenlee advancing to third.
   A balk called on Arnold sent Greenlee to the dish for the third run and Coach Pete Pavusek of Johnson County through the proverbial roof.
   "It's a shame that a ballgame has to be decided by a call like that especially by someone that has been around the game as long as that umpire has," stated a disappointed Pavusek after the contest. "Both teams played hard and Stipe did a good job for Elizabethton in keeping us off balance early on."
   The Longhorns finally dented Stipe's armor in the top of the fifth, as third baseman Adam Leonard hit a fly ball into the sun that left fielder Nat Treadway initially broke back on before racing in to see the ball fall just shy of him for JC's first hit of the game off Stipe. Arnold then enticed a walk from Stipe, placing Longhorns at first and second with two outs. A stinging single by Jesse Jenkins scored Leonard and cut the Cyclone edge to 3-1.
   Elizabethton responded quickly in their portion of the inning as second baseman B.J. Miller tore into an Arnold offering and sent it out of the confines of Joe O' Brien's right-field fence for a solo home run and, more importantly, a run that would come into play late in the game as the Cyclones led 4-1 after five complete.
   Stipe picked up some sparkling help in the sixth frame from his defense as Stipe put himself into a jam by hitting Joe Atwood and Westphal consecutively to put runners at first and second with one out. Michael Reid then hit a ball that looked like it could cause some problems before Miller made a dazzling stop and flip to Mitchell Blevins, whose relay to first was in time for the 4-6-3 twin killing.
   After the Cyclones couldn't get anything stirring in the bottom of the frame, Johnson County appeared ready for one last run in the top of the seventh. After getting the first out relatively quick, Stipe then ran into trouble as Leonard was issued a free pass and Arnold hit into a fielders choice that allowed both runners to reach safely.
   Realizing that Stipe was tiring after throwing well over 80 pitches, McKinney called upon his closer Wes Greer to close the door on the visitors from Johnson County. Greer worked freshman Jenkins to a full count before the young man responded in a big way for his team.
   Jenkins, showing maturity well beyond his freshman status, ripped his second hit of the day which was a triple to deep center field that rolled all the way to the wall allowing both runners to score to close the gap to 4-3. Greer then came back to ring up Bryan Bauguess and Michael Davis on consecutive strikeouts to preserve the win for Stipe and the Cyclones and add a save in his season's column.
   With the win, the Cyclones are back to .500 baseball with a 6-6 overall record and maintaining their perfect conference mark. Next week will be a tell-tell sign for the team as they play Hampton and Sullivan North in conference action squeezed between Greeneville on the road and Dobyns-Bennett at home. The Cyclones then travel to Knoxville to participate in a weekend tournament, as they will play six games in six days.