Lady Longhorns overcome 'Dogs

By Kim Richardson
STAR Staff

   As the Lady Cyclones approached the recently-completed basketball season, head coach Mike Wilson kept reiterating the need for his struggling players to play "better fundamental basketball."
   "It isn't rocket science," Coach Wilson kept saying. The Cyclones responded by winning the regional tournament, and came within a whistle of playing in Murfreesboro.
   Fundamental play, or just "doing the little things" is the echo of coaches throughout the season, but never more than at tournament time.
   "They beat us with better defense," said Hampton right fielder Stotksy. "We have to work harder in practice."
   The Johnson County Lady Longhorns paid a visit to Hampton Field for a conference softball showdown Thursday. And a showdown it was, or it was until the late innings, when the Lady Bulldogs lost a temporary 3-2 lead on their way to a 7-3 defeat at the hands of the visiting ladies from Mountain City -- a game the Bulldogs lost in the battle of fundamentals.
   "We played better fundamental ball today," said Johnson County head coach Dana Smith. "We played with more consistency. It's heading into tournament action, and we made a couple changes in position. We moved one to the infield from the outfield, and another moved out there from the infield. I just felt that changing things up a little might help. We needed to get a better chemistry defensively."
   The Lady Bulldogs were up to the task early on, at one point having a 3-2 lead. But as in every other game this season, that single victory was as evasive as ever.
   "I think we're starting to play better, then something like this," said Heather Chambers, who pitched the final 1 1/3 innings for the Bulldogs. "We aren't making the fundamental plays."
   The ladies - Bulldogs and Longhorns - both field very young teams. Johnson County got off to a 2-0 lead but the Bulldogs answered Johnson County's two in the top of the third with one in the bottom of the same inning.
   In the fourth inning the Bulldogs added two to take a one-run lead.
   "I told them right off the bat," said Coach Smith, "that we're going to take our lumps as we learn and improve. Now we're playing with a little more confidence, more like a team. They've emerged with their heads held high; that's very rewarding."
   Johnson County starting pitcher Katie Nelson threw a great game. Nelson had 12 strikeouts and held Hampton scoreless over the final three innings.
   "We knew we couldn't take them lightly," Nelson said. "I think that's the key; they're a very improved team. I had good control early in the count."
   Melissa Norris scored for the Bulldogs and pitched well through four innings, but appeared to tire in the later stages of the game.
   Hampton shortstop Lacy Oliver said, "Melissa played well, but we just didn't make the plays behind her. We were down a little after yesterday (a hard-fought 5-4 loss against Sullivan North) and maybe not quite mentally prepared for today's game."
   Cayla Lewis said catching Thursday's game by Nelson was "simple."
   "Yeah, she had them behind in the count so often," Lewis said. "Her control was right on the money."
   The Longhorns are now 4-16 overall, having won three conference games.
   "We plan to attack the tournament with confidence," said JCHS third-baseman Sarah Wright. "It's a whole new season next week."
   Johnson County's win gives it a badly-needed shot in the arm heading into post-season play.
   "It's the end, and it's the beginning," Coach Smith told her players. "It's a new season, a new opportunity."