'Landers bat down Huskies

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR CORRESPONDENT
wholtsclaw@starhq.com

   With third place in the conference on the line, the Cloudland Highlanders had to raise their game Thursday afternoon against the North Greene Huskies.
   Led by an all-around solid hitting effort, and a ten-strikeout performance from Mark Byrd, the 'Landers battled their way to an 8-4 victory at Highlander Field.
   "I thought Byrd pitched real well and at times we backed him up," said Cloudland coach Robbie Turbyfill. "But we're still making mistakes we shouldn't be. We've got a few things we've got to get corrected before the district tournament."
   The 'Landers connected on fifteen hits during the outing, which was one of their best hitting games all year.
   "I felt like we hit the ball well," Turbyfill said. "Our whole line-up hit
   it well. I thought our top four or five batters stepped up and did well.
   "We're swinging more level," he said. "We've been uppercutting the ball and just haven't been getting good hits. We're coming around."
   The 'Landers got caught with two outs early in the first inning, but a fielders choice to Clint Steiner and a single from Mark Barnett put the squad in good position.
   Jeff Steiner stepped up to single in his brother, before a balk brought in Barnett's run.
   North Greene wouldn't be down for long as pitcher William Hughes belted a homer at the top of the second inning to cut it at 2-1.
   Mark Byrd wouldn't be outdone, as a Dakota Benfield double set up a crushing shot into right-centerfield, giving Cloudland the 4-1 lead.
   A solid inning of defense brought the 'Landers back to the plate, and they delivered again. A walk to Clint Steiner and a Mark Barnett single set up a two-run double from Cole Gouge.
   The 'Landers kept the bases loaded, but were plagued with three consecutive outs at the bottom of the order.
   North Greene struck right back with walks to Adam Weems and Allen Flannery.
   Erik Hite and Dusty Neal delivered RBI singles to slice the Cloudland lead in half.
   Neither team got on the board through the fifth inning, but the 'Landers made sure they tacked on some insurance runs.
   Mark Byrd singled, followed by a Josh Johnson walk for Cloudland. Both players made their way around the bases, but Byrd was caught in a pick between third and home.
   In a move reminiscent of his football work, Byrd jumped and juked North Greene catcher Dusty Neal, forcing Neal to bobble the ball long enough for Byrd to sprint and slide cleanly across the plate.
   A sacrificed fly from Barnett sent Johnson across the plate, giving
   Cloudland an 8-3 lead.
   William Hughes opened again for North Greene in the seventh inning, following up with another crushed homer over the left fence.
   The Huskies couldn't follow him up as Byrd struck out two of the next three batters to keep the win.
   "We hit the ball a little bit better today," said Byrd. "We're still making some mistakes in the infield and outfield. If we cut them down, we'll be in pretty good shape."
   The win was good enough to keep Cloudland out of an opening district outing with Unaka. Instead they may meet with University High.
   "Hopefully, that'll give us a little bit of an advantage in the
   tournaments," he said. "We've got some tough teams to beat and we have to come out and play."
   Byrd and Mark Barnett batted three of four for the 'Landers, while Dakota Benfield went three of three.
   "We just kept at it and we couldn't let them back in the game," said Mark Barnett. "We knew if we got down it would be hard to come back. It's a pretty tough conference, I'm just glad we're staying with it."
   "I was in a slump for two or three games straight," he said. "So I've just practiced at it and I've been able to hit the ball a little better."
   Cole Gouge and Jeff Steiner added two hits a piece for Cloudland. J.P. Johnson and William Hughes were both two of four a piece for the Huskies.