Lady 'Horns hang tough with Unicoi

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   MOUNTAIN CITY--You couldn't find a happier team following a loss than the Johnson County Lady Longhorns on Monday afternoon.
   Going up against Watauga Conference leading and defending state champion Unicoi County, the Lady Longhorns didn't back down in a 3-0 defeat at Longhorn Field.
   "I'm very proud," said Johnson County assistant coach Lisa Mullins, who was filling in for Dana Smith. "They did the basics, and that's what they have to do. Unfortunately, Unicoi is Unicoi. They're very good, and you've got to play to their level. We have a bunch of young girls, and maybe eventually we will."
   The Lady Longhorns might have been able to pull it out if it hadn't been for Natalie Lockner. The Lady Blue Devil pitcher had a no-hitter going until the sixth inning when Amanda Eichorn's single ended that.
   The Lady Longhorns had runners at second and third in the sixth inning trailing by three runs, but Lockner struck out Katie Nelson and Amanda Dowell to end the Lady 'Horns only main threat on offense.
   But Unicoi couldn't get much going either, and a lot of that had to do with Johnson County pitcher Laura Peters. Peters allowed only three runs on six hits.
   Peters also failed to allow a walk on the day.
   She also had plenty of help in the field, as Johnson County had just one error in the contest.
   "We just went out there and did our best," Peters said. "It will be good for us tomorrow. We just did the best that we could do."
   Peters is a sophomore that already has a no-hitter in her career, but the team lost that game with Happy Valley last year.
   On Monday, her teammates definitely gave her plenty of support in the field. Peters acknowledged that fact.
   "We played really good defense," Peters said.
   Unicoi scored two runs on three hits in the first inning, then scored the third run in the fourth when Elizabeth Weaver singled in Rachel Tilson.
   The rest of the time, the Lady Longhorns played brilliantly. Peters actually retired the side in three of the seven innings.
   Unicoi had been beating most of the teams in the conference by over 10 runs. Unicoi beat Johnson County in their first meeting 18-0.
   Peters couldn't have been happier.
   "It was a hard game, but I just concentrated on getting the ball across the plate," she said. "And I knew my team was backing me up."
   The game was very special for one Johnson County senior. Andrea McQueen has suffered two ACL tears in her career, and has missed two basketball seasons.
   McQueen came back to the softball team just after the season had started this year, so this is a game she will never forget.
   "I feel like this is the best outing we've ever had against Unicoi," McQueen said. "Laura pitched an excellent game. If we could have hit a little bit, we might have made it a closer game than 3-0. I think this is a great thing that I can look back upon and say that we're probably the only team that has ever gone seven innings with Unicoi. They were the state champions last year. That's something to be proud of."
   The Lady Longhorns were heavy underdogs against Unicoi on Monday, but their performance will probably have the Watauga Conference coaches' attention going into the District 1-AA Tournament.
   Johnson County will play Sullivan Central or Happy Valley in the first round of the District 1-AA Tournament. If the Lady Longhorns can win today against Elizabethton, they will most likely avoid the Lady Warriors.
   McQueen feels confident about Johnson County's chances throughout the rest of the year.
   "If we bring the defense we played today and we hit a little bit tomorrow, there's no reason why we shouldn't win tomorrow," she said.
   Tonight's game with the Cyclones will be senior night.