Jr. Bucs get past Highlanders

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR CORRESPONDENT
wholtsclaw@starhq.com

   With the resignation of coach Joe Borden, the University High Junior Bucs started over, with new coach Tony Gordon, in the right direction.
   During a game that saw both teams battle toe-to-toe, the Junior Bucs topped the Cloudland Highlanders 3-0 after a Drew Harrell and Mark Byrd pitching duel on Highlander Field Tuesday.
   Harrell and Byrd tossed eight strikeouts apiece in the contest. Harrell gave up four hits, while Byrd gave up three as errors sidelined the 'Landers.
   The Junior Bucs made solid defensive plays each time Cloudland began to rally, and it proved to be the difference in the game.
   "I think by far it was our best outing of the season," said Cloudland coach Robbie Turbyfill. "We hit the ball well and we fielded the ball well. Drew Harrell is one of the top players around and he stepped his game up. You couldn't ask for a better pitching performance, but I thought Byrd pitched just as well.
   "We had a couple of mental mistakes that cost us some runs and that really got us. I think by tournament time next week when we play this bunch again, if we can cut the mental mistakes down and be competitive with them."
   "Today, we had excellent pitching and timely defense," said Gordon. "We got the hits when we needed them and ran the bases well, so I was proud of that. We'll just see how it goes from there."
   UH's Garrison Burton and Cloudland's Clint Steiner traded hits for both teams early in the game, but neither squad could take advantage of anything until the top of the fourth inning.
   University High got a leadoff double from Daniel Smith, who scored on an errored shot from Josh Fields. Toby Hoyle followed with an RBI single to give University High a 2-0 lead.
   The Junior Bucs scored again in the fifth inning when Tyler Blevins walked, setting up an another errored shot, this time from Burton, to send Blevins across the plate with a 3-0 UH lead.
   The 'Landers played solid defense throughout the rest of the game and got going offensively in the sixth inning behind hits from Aaron Stocton and Mark Byrd. They just couldn't follow them up.
   The same thing happened in the seventh inning as Dale Baker was hit by a pitch and Dakota Benfield walked. However, Harrell stepped up his game striking out two of the last three batters he faced to protect his fourth victory of the season.
   "We had the defense going today and it was the key," Harrell said. "They have a great pitcher in Mark Byrd, he's no pushover both times. Our outfield and catcher Toby Hoyle did a heck of a job."
   "We started a new season today with head coach Tony Gordon coming in. We look at it as 1-0, and going into the tournament we have a lot of motivation going on."
   Harrell knows it's going to be a challenge to defeat Cloudland again early next week in the first round of the District 1-A Tournament.
   "It's hard to beat a team three times," he said. "Cloudland's no pushover and they're a heck of a ball club. They were without two of their players today, so you have to go in 0-0 and play your best ball."
   It's been five years since Gordon has headed up a baseball squad. He was glad to take on the challenge after Borden's departure from the club.
   "It was fun just getting back in and coaching baseball," Gordon said. "It's been five years since I've coached at the varsity level, in North Carolina. I was asked to take this on and I will do it to the best of my ability. I do it for these kids, because there are a lot of things that I could be doing.
   "We did some things different in practice yesterday and we just wanted them to relax and play ball. They did a good job of that and there's a lot of talent here. These young men have to realize that they are fairly talented and that they can do big things, so we're trying to make the best of the rest of the season."
   The Junior Bucs travel to South Greene for a 4 p.m. outing today, while the 'Landers host Mitchell County, NC in a doubleheader Thursday.