Heart-throb Elizabethton falls to Devils in 10 innings

By Ivan Sanders
STAR CORRESPONDENT

   Warrants could have been issued for robbery after the Region 1-AA tournament final at Devil Stadium on Wednesday evening.
   Unicoi County captured yet another regional title after the Blue Devils culminated a nerve-wrecking, extra-inning affair by sneaking past the Elizabethton Cyclones in 10 innings by a score of 9-8.
   "We never gave up," said Devil catcher Justin Benard who delivered the game-winning hit. "There were some controversial calls, but oh well, that's how the game of baseball is."
   In reality, the game went three innings too long after the umpiring crew working the contest took victory away from the Cyclones by awarding first base to Josh Williams after Joseph Taylor made a tag attempt on the runner.
   Williams made a huge turn around Taylor on the outside of the base path to avoid the tag, which by rule is an out for leaving the area granted a runner.
   The call turned out to be huge as the Blue Devils tied the game on the call to force free baseball.
   The game to this point had been one of enough ups and downs with twist and turns that a person with a weak stomach might consider leaving.
   B.J. Miller led off the game with a solo homer off of Darrell Roop to stake EHS to an early 1-0 lead. Both defenses made the plays needed to win a big game like this as the score held 1-0 until the top of the third.
   Miller reached again on a walk and Justin Williams was kerpluncked by a Roop pitch. Consecutive singles by Chris Hurt, Daniel Range and Michael Porter plated Miller and Williams with Range and Porter picking up RBI's.
   Unicoi County dented the board in the bottom of the inning as Nick Garland singled and advanced on an error by Williams at third on a ball hit by Benard.
   Marcus Longcrier singled in the run for a 5-1 Cyclone edge after three complete.
   Elizabethton wasted little time in snatching two runs away from the Blue Devils. Jeremy Hodge and Miller singled back-to-back and both runners scored on a two RBI single by Williams.
   Things looked to be headed Cyclone pitcher Zach Stipe's way after the 'Clones set the first two men down. Stipe walked Daron Adkins and Roop hit one that appeared to be out number three.
   Miller booted the ball at second as both men were safe. Anthony Garland recorded another base on balls before Unicoi's Mr. Everything, Nick Garland, stepped to the plate and delivered a crushing single to pick up the two lead runners.
   Benard was hitting when a Stipe offering sailed past him to allow Garland to race home on a wild pitch. Benard ripped a Stipe pitch for another run scoring hit. Longcrier finished off the spree with another single for a five run fourth to take a 6-5 lead.
   EHS responded with two more in the fifth after Taylor and Hodge drew walks with Bowers and Williams knocking each individual runner in.
   "I am really proud of my seniors this year," stated head coach Steve McKinney. "They did a super job and hopefully they have learned from this experience. They include Jeremy Hodge, Joseph Taylor, Justin Williams, Daniel Range and Josh Irick."
   The game rested in the arms of both pitchers until reaching the pivotal point in the bottom of the seventh inning when the fireworks took place.
   The tension was as thick as the nervousness of a roomful of long-tailed cats wondering around in a room filled with hundreds of rocking chairs in both dugouts.
   For two innings there wasn't anything happening besides the humming sound of crickets and an occasional tapped baseball to an infielder for one or the other teams.
   EHS slid ahead in the top of the 10th as Miller played a key role as he singled once again. Bowers bunted Miller to third and with Williams hitting one to the third baseman and a bobble, Miller scooted home.
   Dramatics reached a feverish pitch in the bottom of the tenth when Williams reached on an error.
   Unicoi County then proceeded to wear the helpless infielders out of the Cyclones down with a steady diet of infield hits and fielder's choices.
   After spelling Greer, Coach Steve McKinney went to the bus station to get the diesel hot on the mound, but Greer stumbled and walked the tying run in.
   Now the excitement was too much for those of us who are over 35 as the Blue Devils reached to load the bases, and Benard came through in the clutch with the game-winning single to center field.
   "I just waited patiently until I got the pitch I liked," said Benard. " I knew I needed to drive it up the middle and fortunately I did so."
   The Cyclones sealed their season after making a super run throughout the tournaments, including a second place district tournament runner-up and second place in the regional.
   From all indications, the outlook will be very bright for next year's squad.
   Said McKinney: "I told the kids we would just get bigger and better for next season. We've had a heck of a run and our kids have done a heck of a job."
   Congratulations to the Elizabethton Cyclones for their fantastic play in the post season.