Cyclones shock Blue Devils

By Ivan Sanders

   In the winners bracket game of the District 1-AA baseball tournament, the infamous words of one Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. summed up the outcome of the contest--"SUR-PRISE, SUR-PRISE, SUR-PRISE!"
   It has been fourteen years since coach Hack Hyder took an EHS baseball team to a regional game when his son, Greg, was one of his prolific players. On Wednesday evening, the 2002 Cyclones signed their name on the line as a regional participant with a dramatic, climatic 2-1 final over a team whose trademark consist of regional berths in Unicoi County.
   "I was able to hit my spots tonight," stated Cyclone pitcher Zach Stipe after the contest. "I knew my defense would back me up, so I just pitched the best I could."
   Elizabethton came out early to prove they weren't intimidated by the Blue Devils even after dropping their two meetings during the regular season. EHS scored one in the first without even recording a hit.
   B.J. Miller reached on a walk and advanced all the way to third on an error by Unicoi County's third baseman on a ball hit by Travis Bowers. Justin Williams brought Miller home on an RBI sacrifice fly.
   The Cyclones had a secret weapon in the "Zach Attack" as sophomore Stipe kept the Blue Devils silent in the first giving up a lone single to Nick Garland. The score after one was 1-0 in favor of EHS.
   In the Cyclones second, Michael Porter led off with a blistering double in the gap in right center. Jordan Bray drew a walk and Joseph Taylor singled to load the bases. Porter crossed the dish on an infield single by Miller.
   Marcus Longcrier started off the second with a single and advanced to second base on a passed ball. The Blue Devils were hung out to dry as the next two batters struck out and Andrew Inman hit a roller to Williams at third for the final out in the inning.
   The Cyclones found the well dry over their next two at bats as Blue Devil pitcher John Broyles settled down as he didn't allow a hit in the two frames of work, while receiving great defense including a 4-6-3 double play.
   Unicoi County did manage to dent the board in their third inning. Darrell Roop roped a single to center. Stipe attempted to pick Roop off first, but threw the ball wide allowing Roop to motor to third.
   Mike Manuel lofted a ball deep enough to right allowing Roop to score on the sacrifice fly. Stipe was able to work out of the inning without any further damage.
   Stipe continued his good work in the fourth, allowing a lead off double to Longcrier and then helped himself in a tremendous way by catching an attempted squeeze bunt and throwing over to third for a 1-5 double play to end the frame.
   The Cyclones threatened again by loading the bases in the fifth on consecutive singles by Miller and Bowers. Williams took one for the team as he was pegged by a pitch..
   EHS just couldn't pull the trigger on John Broyles as the Blue Devil pitcher worked the Cyclones for a fielder's choice out at home and then turned around to fan Daniel Range and Porter to close out a huge Cyclone threat.
   The southpaw hurler for Elizabethton worked an outstanding fifth frame, sitting the Blue Devils down in order to keep his club in the lead 2-1 after five complete.
   "He just did a masterful job of keeping us off stride," stated Blue Devil coach Chris Bogart. "He used his curve ball well, and then came with a pretty good fast ball."
   EHS again tried to work magic in their sixth. After getting the first out, Broyles lost the strike zone momentarily as he issued consecutive walks to Taylor and Jeremy Hodge.
   It didn't take long to rediscover the zone as Miller went down swinging and Bowers flew out deep to left field for the final out of the frame.
   Nick Garland led off the Devil sixth with a walk to put the tying run on first. After retiring Justin Benard on a fly ball to left, Stipe plunked Longcrier with a ball that turned out to be the final pitch of the night for the young pitcher.
   Wes "The Bus" Greer came in and slammed the door on the Blue Devils by getting Aaron Fender to hit into a fielder's choice and then coaxed Josh Williams to pop out on the infield to Miller at second.
   Needing a little breathing room, the Cyclones failed to manufacture any runs in the top of the seventh. It was now up to "The Bus" to deliver the Cyclones to the winner's bracket station.
   Drew Anders pinch hit for Daron Adkins and reached after being hit by a pitch. Anthony Garland laid down a perfect bunt single to reach first, but a base running error by Anders cost the Blue Devils as Greer gunned Anders down trying for third.
   Greer rang Roop up for a strikeout to bring the fans to their feet, as the Cyclones were one out away from victory. Manuel hit a rocket to shortstop Bowers who flipped to Miller for the force out and the biggest win in Cyclone baseball in several years.
   "This is just unbelievable," stated an overwhelmed Cyclone mentor Steve McKinney. "Stipe pitched a whale of a game and Greer closed the door for us in a big way."
   Elizabethton now has a chance to do what most people thought they never stood a chance at and that is to win the district championship outright tonight against the winner of the elimination game between North and Unicoi County with game time set for 7 p.m.
   Regardless of the outcome, the ticket has been punched and the Cyclones are on their way to a regional baseball berth.