'Landers come up shy versus  Avery County

By Michelle Pope
STAR STAFF
mpope@starhq.com

   The Highlander baseball team took a 10-6 fall Friday afternoon in Newland, NC against the Avery County Vikings despite a seventh-inning effort that included four Cloudland runs.
   'Lander shortstop Clint Steiner batted 2-for-4, hitting a home run off the scoreboard in the fourth, and brought in three much-needed runs in the final inning with a double, and scored the fourth himself on a fielder's choice.
   Steiner was responsible for five of Cloudland's six runs. Mark Byrd threw six strikeouts in six innings for the Highlanders.
   "We came back there in the end," said Cloudland skipper Robbie Turbyfill. "A couple mistakes there early just really hurt us, just a couple errors in the field and watching the third strike. We had five or six batters up to watch the third strike."
   The 'Landers appeared to be off to a good start in the first inning, as Dakota Benfield hit a single and stole second base. However, Avery starting pitcher Corey Singleton threw a strikeout to end the inning and leave him stranded.
   For the Vikings, Josh Shoope got on base on an error and stole second. Starting shortstop Ricky Spradling hit a single to send Shoope to third, and Shoope took advantage of a pass ball to score for Avery County.
   The Vikings struck hard in the third, scoring six runs from five hits. Spradling hit a triple good for two RBIs and center-fielder John Aldridge earned two RBIs with a double. Spradling crossed the plate himself on a pass ball, and Evan Merril made it home on a fielder's choice.
   Cloudland fought back in the fourth as Steiner opened up with his home run. Dane Christman followed up with a double, stole third base, and scored off of designated hitter Nick Winchester's base hit to make the score 7-2.
   Tyler Davis hit a homer in the fifth for the Vikings, scoring another run. In the bottom of the sixth, a rolling catch by Winchester, who took over in Cloudland's right field, put two outs on the board. Davis, 3-for-3 from the plate, and Alex Elkins got on base with singles and both made it home on Nate Davis' base hit.
   "It was non-conference, so hopefully we will improve, and by the time we get to playing some more conference games, we'll be okay," Turbyfill said.
   Cloudland rallied in the last inning to bring the gap in the score to four, with three runs courtesy of Steiner's double. Steiner said his homerun at his second at-bat gave him the confidence needed to smack a double with the bases loaded.
   "I'm just glad I hit it," Steiner said. "I've been struggling."
   The Vikings went through three pitchers in the seventh inning trying to keep the 'Lander offense under control. Merril took over for Singleton in the fourth and pitched into the seventh, when he was relieved by Shane Poore. Spradling finished on the mound for Avery County.
   Jason Winters took a base on balls in the seventh and Byrd hit a single. Benfield took a hit from Poore to load the bases. After a strikeout, Steiner cleaned house with a double. Christman got on base as a throw to first from the pitcher flew awry, and Steiner scored during the mayhem.
   "It was a good game," said Avery County coach Zack Wigstrom. "It was fun and we played good. The first six innings, we had two walks and a hit by a pitch. The seventh inning, we opened the door for them and they took advantage of it. Luckily, Ricky was able to come in and shut the door on them. We were fortunate in that."
   "I thought Byrd pitched well," Coach Turbyfill said. "I thought we hit the ball better than we have in other games, so I did see improvement, but we've got to quit watching the third strike."