Lady Warriors jump on 'Betsy early, hang on for league win

By Kim Richardson
STAR Staff

   Happy Valley Lady Warriors leadoff batter Mandy Byrd steps to the plate in the top of the first inning. She hits a ball to left field, and she's out on the fly. As simple as that, one of the Lady Warriors' all-star caliber players is up then down; a routine out on the leadoff batter.
   But for this at bat, Byrd's second plate appearance of the first inning, it was another case of too little, too late for the Lady Cyclones of Elizabethton High School.
   "We can no longer be content with playing big conference games like this one close," said Elizabethton head coach Kenny Hardin. "They're a very good team, a veteran club with a lot of great players, but we can't let games like this one continue to get away. We're better than this."
   "We just got off to such a rough start," stated Lady Cyclone pitcher Jessica Robinson. "We played even with them after that awful first inning, but we have to come to play an entire game against a team like Happy Valley."
   Said Byrd: "We were able to jump on them a little early on, and that might have had something to do with their youth. They battled throughout."
   "They remind us of us when we were a couple years younger," said Lady Warrior Alicia Dick, who was the winning pitcher in the thrilling 4-3 Watauga victory for Happy Valley at EHS.
   The Warriors held on, but only after the Cyclones plated one in the bottom of the fourth and two in the fifth.  Happy Valley replaced Alicia Dick with Kortney Goulds in the circle and moved Dick to third base for "nothing more than a change of pace," stated Lady Warriors head coach Karri Killen.
   "Alicia was pitching fine, but we wanted to show them a change of pace," Killen said.
   The winning run had scored well before the change in pitching. In fact, the winning run scored in the top of the first inning. Byrd was hit by a pitch, then a routing fly to shortstop, Lana Blevins. One down, one on.
   Robinson surrendered a walk to Dick, bringing up Terra Whaley, who belted a double that scored Byrd. Goulds walked, the second of the inning by Robinson (her only walks of the game), and up stepped Jessica Blevins for the second double of the inning, plating two runs. 
   Bad enough for one inning, but the Lady Warriors weren't quite finished as Jennifer Osborne and Christy Shell each singled. Shell's hit drove home Goulds; and the Lady Warriors were finished scoring for the first inning, and finished scoring for the game.
   But in that first inning the Warriors batted around-plus one to secure the win.  
   "We still have games to play," said Cyclones catcher Katie Hubbard, who had a key hit and a walk for the Cyclones. "And we don't plan on heading into the tournament to lose. I think we can compete with anybody in the league."
   Cyclones left fielder Abbie Jenkins reiterated Hubbard's sentiments.
   "We started out a little hesitant early, but we're going to get better," she said. "They beat us in that first inning."
   Robinson, while not entirely on her game in the disastrous first, shut down the veteran Warriors throughout the remaining six innings.
   "I have to pitch better, and we -- as a team -- we have to make the plays, and get the hits with runners on the bases," Robinson said. 
   "We're young, yes," said Coach Hardin. "But it's getting late in the season, and we cannot use the excuse of youth. Come tournament time, you lose -- young or old -- it's over."
   Coach Killen was quick to praise the Lady Cyclones.
   "They're greatly improved," she said. "They're going to be a force in the tournament and for the distant future." 
   Goulds agreed, saying: "We saw a very improved team today. We don't take anybody lightly."
   Goulds pitched two shutout innings in relief for Happy Valley.
   "They were aggressive, and never let up," she said. "Yes, we respect that."
   Hubbard, Kristie Keys and Jenkins each scored for Elizabethton.
   Freshman Mary Edgar summed up the Cyclones feelings best: "We're a little mad; mad at ourselves for not winning. Coming close is no longer good enough."