'Landers lose squeaker to Junior Bucs

By Ivan Sanders

   ERWIN -- With the threat of heavy rains looming on the horizon, there were some that doubted that University High and Cloudland were going to be able to start off the 2003 District 1-A tournament being played at the Devils Diamond in Unicoi County.
   Yet, the game went on and in a classical duel between two of the most heralded players in the 1-A ranks, Drew Harrell and the Jr. Bucs managed to make the plays needed to outlast Mark Byrd and the Highlanders by the tally of 1-0 on Monday evening.
   "This game started on the mound as Drew made the pitches when he had to, and our fielders made some good plays in these conditions we had out here tonight," said Jr. Buc coach Tony Gordon.
   "I am still a little concerned that we didn't cash in when we had the runners in scoring position, and right now my biggest concern is the hitting."
   The only run of the contest came in the bottom of the second inning after John Sams reached on a solid single. Josh Fields was issued a walk by Byrd, who managed to get the next two batters out on strikeouts.
   Ryan Collins then stepped to the plate and delivered a single that allowed Sams to come around to score for the 1-0 UH advantage.
   From that point, the rains begin to steadily increase from a slight drizzle to a moderate shower as both pitchers showed amazing poise to hit the strike zone, ringing up several batters along the way.
   "Byrd pitched well today and kept us in the ballgame," stated 'Lander coach Robbie Turbyfill. "We had the opportunities, but we just couldn't capitalize when we needed to."
   In the Cloudland sixth there was just one such instance as the 'Landers loaded the bases on a single by Byrd, who advanced to second after Dale Baker was pegged by a Harrell offering.
   Designated hitter Jeff Steiner worked the count full before coaxing a walk from Harrell to set the stage for Josh Johnson.
   Harrell stiffened and was able to get Johnson to hit a tapper back to the mound that Harrell soft tossed to Jr. Buc first baseman Morgan Woodacre to end the 'Lander threat.
   Cloudland worked for one last opportunity in its last at-bat in the top of the seventh. Harrell was able to get Cole Gouge to ground out to Daniel Smith at third to begin the frame.
   Aaron Stocton tagged a single to give Cloudland a shot to win. Dave Holden hit another ball toward Smith that was handled for the second out, allowing Stocton to advance to second base.
   Byrd came to the plate with every coach in the stands and pressbox just knowing that Byrd would draw an intentional walk. Gordon made a gutsy decision to allow Harrell to pitch to Byrd, who had already picked up the earlier single.
   The move paid off as Byrd took a pitch in his wheel house and drove it toward right-center field, where Josh Fields made an outstanding snare on a ball that was headed for at least a double or even a triple, with Byrd's speed, for the final out of the contest.
   Said Gordon: "I debated on walking Byrd, but I knew Drew had done the job on him all day. Josh bailed us out with that catch."
   Turbyfill said he probably would have played it a little differently if he was faced with that situation.
   "I was surprised they pitched to him because Mark thrives on situations like that," quipped Turbyfill. "I told him to take it to right, which he did, and he almost stepped up with a big hit."
   Added Turbyfill: "If we can get by our next opponent tomorrow, we could face UH again. We've really improved from the start of the season because we lost to them 5-3, 3-0, and now 1-0. I'm really proud of these guys."
   Unaka's game with North Greene was washed out and has been rescheduled for Tuesday at 4:30 p.m., with Cloudland taking on that game's loser at 7:30 p.m. in an elimination game.