Happy Valley savors championship flavor

Receiving Buchanan heroics in Game 1, Warriors sweep Falcons for long-awaited conference title

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR STAFF
mbirchfield@starhq.com

   It's been a long time waiting since Happy Valley finished at the top spot in their conference, but on Wednesday afternoon a repeat to stardom was the destiny of the Warriors.
   Holding its own fate in a double-header with Volunteer, the Warriors swept the Falcons at Joe O'Brien Field, capturing a 7-0 shutout in the first game, then a dramatic come-from-behind win of 6-5 in the second meeting.
   The victories gave the Warriors their first league crown since sharing it with Unaka in 1969. This time, Happy Valley wins the title outright.
   Junior pitcher Shannon Buchanan led the way in the first contest by throwing a no-hitter, along with going 2-for-2 at the plate with two runs batted in.
   The second matchup was won by a string of big hitters, which enabled Happy Valley to post four runs in the final two innings after trailing by three runs halfway through the fourth frame.
   "We just needed a break through, and I think midway through the year that the kids realized it could happen and wanted it to happen," said Happy Valley coach Greg Hyder. "We got down in the second game but didn't quit, and then Buchanan got us a great start in the first game by throwing a no-hitter. That was unbelievable."
   In game one, Buchanan smacked a single during the second frame, which drove home Drew Davis to give the Warriors a slim advantage of 1-0.
   "I think I made a big impact, for the reason I came out and battled so hard was because it was a big conference game for us and it put us on a high," said Buchanan.
   The flood gates opened for Happy Valley in the third frame, after Todd Caldwell started the momentum by crushing a two-run home over the right-field wall.
   The shot brought in sophomore shortstop Ricky Morgan, who led off the inning with a single, and double from Ryan Toney produced another run with Tim Whaley coming home.
   A hit from Josh Lowe drove in Toney, which put the Warriors up 5-0 with two outs, but before the Falcons managed the third and final out, two more runs crossed.
   Buchanan captured his second hit of the contest with a hard-hit double to the left-field wall, which scored Lowe, as Buchanan put together a perfect performance with both aspects of the game.
   "We had a big win last night that gave us a chance at the conference championship, and I'm not saying we weren't ready to play, but their pitcher Buchanan just came out and hit his spots well," said Volunteer coach Chuck McLain. "He stymied us a little bit, so the credit goes to them."
   The final run came after a hit over the middle from Ryan Garland brought home Buchanan.
   "I went two for two, and I was able to get hits with the runners in scoring position so that was good," said Buchanan. "It's just the people in front of me that get on and give me a chance to drive them in , so it's all of us."
   The second contest was a mere reflection of the previous matchup through the first three innings.
   Toney headed the mound for the Warriors this time around, and in the first three innings he pitched there was no hits allowed with six strike-outs.
   The Warriors grabbed the early lead in the bottom of the second frame, when senior Tim Whaley smacked a triple deep to center field.
   Happy Valley took the early 1-0 lead after a ground-out from Jordy Harrison brought home Whaley.
   "Last year we had a shot at it and didn't come through, and this year we had a young ball club and people on Coach T said we were too inexperienced to go anywhere," said Whaley. "We showed them right now that we could come out and win the conference."
   Just like in the inning before, the Warrior leadoff hitter came away with a big hit, as this time it was Garland hitting a grounder down the left-field line to produce a double.
   A blooper from Caldwell to shallow center drove home Garland, as the reach for the title looked to be well in the hands of the Warriors.
   Before the celebration for the Warriors took place, they were faced with having to come back and earn it after giving up five runs in the fourth frame.
   Two base hits and a walk to the first three batters loaded the base for the Falcons, as the Warriors were faced with seeing the advantage slip away.
   A double to deep right-center field from Bart Berry drove in three runs, with Daniel Byington, Jacob Frazier and Wes Bowery all crossing the plate to give the Falcons the lead.
   Another run scored after Tyler McConnell hit a grounder to left field, which brought in Berry.
   The Warriors were starting to feel the frustration at this point, as the pitcher and catcher combination were unable to stay in sync, with the last run coming from a passed ball to score McConnell.
   "They got the big hit when they needed it. We went up by three in the fourth, and then they cut it down to one and back-to-back doubles in the fifth," said McLain. "They earned it. That's a great ball team they've got."
   Happy Valley was down but certainly not out. The desire to become champions became their main focus in the next two times at bat.
   Needing three runs to tie and four runs for the win, the Warriors closed the gap down to one after the bottom of the fourth.
   A ground-out to the shortstop from Allen Dykes brought the first run in, with courtesy runner Ryan May coming home.
   Buchanan smacked a single to left field to drive in Drew Davis, who had reached base prior by knocking a double to deep right field.
   "Everybody was hitting the ball, and if you put the ball in play that's all you have to do, and make them make the mistakes," said Davis.
   The Warriors brought Caldwell to the mound for the closeout in the final frame, and after a walk to the first hitter, he came back to sit down the next three batters faced.
   Caldwell helped stop the bleeding on defense in the last inning, and with one last chance at bat it was his turn to get the Warriors started on offense.
   A leadoff hit to deep right field from Caldwell produced a double, with Whaley up next.
   Whether it's baseball, football or even basketball, Whaley is the type of guy you want involved when needing a score.
   "Big schools, they have a lot of talent and players, but were not that big of a school," said Whaley. "We come out and play hard, but I think our biggest thing is not our talent but our heart, and I think that's what did it for us."
   The senior leader came through as he has all year long by smacking a double to virtually the same spot as where Caldwell did to tie the contest.
   "I haven't went to right field all this year actually -- I'm usually a pull hitter," Whaley said. "I've been working on the outside plate and driving it to right field, and I think I did it more times today than I had all season."
   Volunteer decided to bring a new pitcher to the mound, plus load the bases in order to create a potential force out at home plate. The strategy didn't work as Davis came up and connected on his third hit of the contest to drive in the game-winning run, with Whaley crossing home plate.
   "After they walked Ryan and Jordy just to get to me, it kind of made me mad, so I just hit the ball and tried to put it in play, and that was it," said Davis.
   Happy Valley's conference championship in '69 came under the direction of Hack Hyder. It has taken 35 years for the Warriors to recapture the glory, with Hack's son Greg leading the team to the top.
   "We really rallied there at the end of the game -- we needed to -- and back-to-back doubles from two of our best hitters, then Davis with the game winner, it was unbelievable," said Greg Hyder. "I'm just proud of every kid we've got from top to bottom. It's great to become champions, and I don't know exactly when we've had one.
   "It's been a long time since we were conference champions, so hopefully we can feed off that. It was just a great effort."