Jr. Bucs fend off Highlanders, 6-5

By Wes Holtsclaw

   The Cloudland Highlanders had players do everything it took to win; however, the team as a whole let one slip away due to errors.
   In Tuesday afternoon's major Watauga Valley Conference game against University High, the 'Landers committed six errors in the field, which led to a 6-5 defeat at the hands of the Junior Bucs.
   The pitching duel between John Sams and Mark Byrd went in favor of the University High senior, although Byrd connected on a three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh to pull the game within one.
   Sams and Byrd tossed 12 and eight strikeouts, respectively.
   "You can't expect to compete in this big of a game with that many errors," said Cloudland coach Robbie Turbyfill. "They put the ball in play and we didn't make plays. It's as simple as that."
   "I thought Mark pitched a great game, but there were a couple of times that we had two outs and nobody was on and they ended up getting the bases loaded because of it and scoring," he said.
   The 'Landers next host Big Creek, West Virginia on Saturday at 1 p.m.
   For the Junior Bucs, coach Pat Heaton was pleased with his team's effort.
   "We had a hard loss last night against Unaka and we needed this one today for a morale booster, if nothing else," Heaton said. "They played a good, scrappy team out here."
   It was Sams' first victory on the mound as a starter.
   "That's his first win as a starter," he said. "He's come in and won in relief, but he's a senior this year. It's a good place to get one. A win's a win."
   University High got on the board first after Tyler Blevins singled and scored on an RBI shot from Brandon Bishop. An error in the field allowed Bishop to come across the plate with a 2-0 lead.
   For Cloudland, Mark Byrd struck back with a single, while David Holden walked. Clint Steiner drove Byrd across the plate, while a throwing error gave Holden room to sprint home to tie things up.
   The Junior Bucs struck right back when Ryne Heaton advanced on a fielder's choice and worked his way around the bases. He scored when Garrison Burton was caught in a pick-off situation and his team never looked back.
   With two outs to open the fourth inning, Heaton got back in position after a dropped strikeout gave him room to take a base.
   Blevins advanced on an error and a Bishop shot was fumbled through the Cloudland midfield to score the two runs for University High.
   The Junior Bucs got their final run when Ryan Collins singled and an error off the bat of B.J. Nave gave room for the score.
   Cloudland got a hit from Zack Cook and a double from Clint Steiner, who wasn't given a triple after a controversial call in the game, but the team wasn't able to work around its defensive mistakes.
   Cloudland fought through the last two innings against the Junior Bucs and stepped up with two outs in the seventh inning.
   Scotty Steiner walked and Cook was struck by a pitch. Byrd was almost hit by a throw, but went yard over the left-field fence on the next pitch to close the gap at 6-5.
   That was as close as Cloudland got.
   Byrd finished the game with a three of three batting performance to lead the team. Steiner added two hits.
   "He's an athlete and I admire him greatly," said Heaton of Byrd. "He's a warrior and in everything he does, he goes to win. Tonight we got lucky."
   Bishop and Blevins were the only Junior Bucs with multiple hits.
   As for the errors, Turbyfill believes the team will be better prepared for Saturday's non-conference game.
   "We had too many errors, but I promise you, tomorrow you can come by about 7:30 and see us out here on the field. We'll be ready to go in the next game."