Lady Cyclones fail to challenge Unicoi County

By Marvin Birchfield

   A couple of bloopers and mistakes on the field sometimes turns a sweet beginning to a dreaded outcome. This was what Elizabethton experienced in its meeting with Unicoi County.
   The Lady Blue Devils were in sole possession of first place in the conference heading into Thursday's game, and nothing changed after they executed a lopsided victory of 10-0.
   Remaining in the number three spot are the Lady Cyclones, who just couldn't quite recover from an error-plagued third inning.
   "We made a couple of big mistakes at the wrong time and Unicoi is a great team, and anytime you make mistakes against a great team like that, then they're going to capitalize and they did," said Elizabethton coach Kenny Hardin.
   Elizabethton held stride for the first two frames, as Maggie Austin made a nice run and grab in right field off a hard hit ball by Leah Love.
   It looked like the game might be reminiscent of the tough match-up prior in the season, but the Cyclones hopes were quickly diminish after the second inning.
   The bottom fell out for the Cyclones in the third frame, when the leadoff hitter Crystal Rutherford got on base with an error that would eventually score.
   "After all the errors we give up, and this is my was my second game in a row -- we've got two pitcher's hurt," said Lady Cyclone hurler Robinson. "Mary has pitched way too much, so we had to cancel our JV game. I think we were intimidated a little."
   A grounder down the third-base line from Emily Bennett placed runners on first and second base, as the Cyclones were facing jeopardy in losing control of the contest.
   "They hit the ball hard for the most part, and we didn't make the plays when they did -- that really hurt us," said Hardin. "This is disheartening -- we've been playing good and been playing with people lately, but we'll work hard and come back."
   Robinson nearly enabled her team to escape, when she struck out two of the next three hitters that she faced.
   Two walks issued by Robinson drove the first run in with Rutherford crossing the plate.
   From that point on, the momentum went sailing into a downward tailspin, with Kelly Lingerfelt hitting a line drive to center field, which scored Bennett and Stephanie Byrd.
   "I'm pleased with how the girls played today -- they were really focused -- because I knew coming over here Elizabethton would play us close on their field," said Unicoi coach Doyle Phipps. "They did on ours.
   "You can't overlook Elizabethton. They're one of the top teams in our conference."
   Back-to-back errors brought home the next three runs, as what was once a scoreless tie had turned into huge deficit at 6-0.
   The Cyclone offense did not help the matters any, with three and out being the tune that was played. This was in tribute to a solid performance at the mound from Natalie Lockner, who allowed no hits through five innings pitched.
   "At the first of the season we were a little shaky, but now we're working as a team and are ready for anybody who comes toward us," said Lockner. "We're only one game away from the season title and I think if we play as a team then we've got it."
   The Blue Devils kept the bat swinging in the fourth and fifth frames to add four more runs bringing the ten-run mercy rule into effect.
   A shot to the left center-field fence from Lockner brought Bennett and Byrd home during the fourth frame.
   "We've came together very well and I think done a lot more than expected and proved everybody wrong," said Lockner. "We're really proud were working as a team, and we're ready to go to Memphis."
   Bennett went 4-for-4 at the plate, with her last hit driving in Rutherford in the final inning.
   The tenth run was added when Byrd made a hit to shallow left field, bringing home Bennett.
   Elizabethton will host Unaka on Friday, while Unicoi County has its most important test of the season Saturday, visiting Happy Valley. If the Lady Warriors defeat Unicoi, the two teams will be tied for first place.
   "This was a big game for us because it gives us at least a tie for the conference championship, and I'm kind of stingy -- I don't want to share it," said Phipps. "I'm sure my girls are already focused for Happy Valley, and I think our girls will be up for the challenge just like today."