Warriors catch Cougars for Watauga win

By Marvin Birchfield

   It's better late than never. The Happy Valley Warriors found this saying to be true in their 3-2, come-from-behind Watauga Conference win against Sullivan Central on Monday at Cannon-Gouge Park.
   After falling behind 2-0 in the first inning of action, Happy Valley rallied with a base hit from Ricky Morgan to drive home the game win run in the final frame.
   "We was a big hit right there and we needed that bad, for we didn't get many breaks there early," said Happy Valley coach Greg Hyder. "The biggest thing I could tell is that we hadn't played since Unaka and that showed.
   "We don't have the veteran team. We're young with sophomores all over the field, and it takes some time. I was worried because Sullivan Central has a good team and I didn't think we had enough time to get ready."
   The Cougars grabbed the early momentum in the top of the first, when Josh O'dell led off with a double to left field.
   Two of the Warrior outfielders were undecided on who was going to make the catch on the play, and then a single from Ryan Davenport drove in O'dell to score the first run of the contest.
   Happy Valley pitcher Todd Caldwell struck out Jonathan Toler, which would have made the final out, but the ball got past the catcher to allow Davenport to cross the plate for a second run.
   "We knew this was a big game, and we came out a little slow at first, but we settled down after that first inning and started making plays and did all right after that," said Caldwell.
   It took the Warriors three frames before connecting on their first hit of the contest, with a liner to center field from Shannon Buchanan.
   Morgan and Caldwell came through to produce singles, which loaded the bases with two outs.
   Buchanan attempted to come home off the shot from Caldwell, but he got caught in a squeeze play after not getting back to third base quickly enough.
   From there, Sullivan Central threatened to score after having two runners on base off of two Happy Valley errors.
   "We're good defensively, and today we had a couple of errors, but overall we been fielding the ball really well," said Morgan. "All we need is some game time, and unfortunately last week we had the weather, but we're coming on strong."
   Fortunately for the Warriors Caldwell was able to bail them out by throwing two straight strikeouts, as he ended with 11 total on the evening.
   "Baseball is my love and it always has been since I was four years old, so I just want to come out and perform to my best ability everyday," said Caldwell. "As long as I keep it up and keep performing and make myself happy then I think we'll do all right."
   The Warriors came back in the bottom of the fourth to capture their first run with a leadoff hit to right field from Tim Whaley.
   A shot from Ryan Toney got past the shortstop, which enabled Whaley to come home.
   Happy Valley struck again in the fifth frame, when Caldwell crushed a hit over the right-field fence to smack a spectator's car for a solo homer.
   "I just wanted to make something happen up there at the plate, and that's what I look to do and love situations like that," said Caldwell. "I was just trying to come through and luckily I did."
   Happy Valley battled their way back to force a show down in the final frame with the Cougars having first crack at bat.
   Josh O'dell made it on base after laying down a bunt, and then advance to second-base off a steal.
   "We just have to have that killer instinct, and we'll get there but we just left too many on tonight," said Sullivan Central coach Brandon Krantz. "I thought our pitcher threw a great game for Happy Valley has some great hitters, and we have to step up and get the job done when it counts, but we'll learn from this and be all right." "Against good teams you can't leave runners on base and they got the big hit and we didn't so that's the bottom line."
   A third strike to the next batter on the inside set up a deep fly-out to Ryan Garland, which denied Sullivan Central from capitalizing with having a runner on base.
   It was Happy Valley's turn to make something happen, but it didn't look too promising after Drew Davis was caught trying to steal second after reaching the bag on a walk.
   Buchanan stepped up to redeem himself on the base running mistake from the previous fourth inning.
   A liner to shallow center-field placed the winning run on first base, which made the decision for the Cougars to try a pitching change at the mound.
   A.J. Phelps had pitched a solid game until that point, but it was Jesse Lane's turn in trying to force the game to an extra inning.
   Garland laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance Buchanan and put him into scoring position on second.
   The coaches plan to have Morgan come in and get the shot at converting the game winning hit simply worked to perfection.
   "We've been working a lot in the cage and we hit a lot Saturday, and I think that's what really helped," said Morgan. "If we can get on runs then nobody can ever stop us, because we're not going to lay down for anybody."
   Morgan smacked the final hit to right field, which decided the game. Buchanan was joined in celebration by his teammates as he crossed home plate.
   "We hung in there and it was ugly at times, and we put ourselves in position to win at the end and it was critical," said Hyder. "Big hits in spots for Buchanan had a good day at the plate, Garland gets us a bunt and moves the runner over, and I've got all the confidence in Morgan who is a sophomore to drive the runner in." "I told them, 'Hey, Ryan bunt him over and let Ricky drive him in, and I was sitting over here saying, 'Man, they believed in it, and that's the biggest thing just to believe in it.'"