HV feeds Central shutout

By Marvin Birchfield

   CHURCH HILL--It doesn't always require hitting the ball hard in order to make it around the bases. On Monday, the Lady Warriors executed the short game to perfection in their 4-0 victory over Sullivan Central.
   Happy Valley knocked off the Cougars Monday in the District 1-AA tournament, after utilizing the bunt with runners in place.
   When the Warriors efforts in going long didn't pan out, they resorted to the logic of just putting the ball in play and let's see what happens.
   "We were hitting the ball hard, but they were playing so far back that our long ball wasn't getting in there," said Happy Valley coach Karri Killen, whose team advanced into today's winners' bracket final. "So what we tried to do was play the short game with bunts or hits, and they didn't make the plays, so we took advantage of that."
   The result was four runs and Happy Valley moving another step closer to a showdown for the district championship.
   Before opening up the game in the third inning, the Warriors were faced with having to dig themselves out of a hole and missed opportunities in the early going.
   Happy Valley pitcher Alicia Dick struggled with the first two hitters she faced, as a walk to Courtney Brickey and a single from Bethany Haney placed runners on first and second bases with no outs.
   The Warriors defense stiffened after that point, with a nice leaping catch coming from second-baseman Kortney Goulds.
   "Our defense I have confidence in. There's no team up here that has pitcher dominance, and the team that wins is the one that makes the plays," said Killen.
   Goulds fielded the next out but with a lot more ease, and a ground-out to Randi Williams enabled Happy Valley to escape the inning.
   In the top of the third, the Warriors once again found themselves faced with a walk to the leadoff batter and a single from the next hitter to approach the plate.
   "I had trouble getting that leadoff batter every time -- I didn't feel like I was getting what I wanted for strikes, but as a pitcher you've got to work through that and find out what they're calling," said Dick. "Every umpire calls different and you've got to adjust. That is what practice is for -- learning how to throw every kind of game."
   A strikeout from Dick and a couple of groundouts saved the Warriors from giving up a score.
   Happy Valley had a golden opportunity go to waste in the first frame, when bases were loaded with just one out.
   The Cougars were missing their pitcher, Haney, at the mound after arriving late due to an accident on the way to the game.
   "My pitcher and center fielder were in a car accident, so they were late getting here and going through the pre-game warm-up routine," said Sullivan Central coach Dustin Williams. "Those things affect you, and anytime you don't go through your normal pre-game routine, then it can have an adverse effect on how you play the game. But that's not why we lost the game."
   In the bottom of the third, however, the Warriors were focused on making the best of what was presented to them.
   The Warriors captured their first hit on the evening, when Mandy Byrd smacked a grounder to left field.
   "Coach "K" keeps on preaching you put it on the ground and force them to make the plays, and that's what we tried to do," said Byrd. "I luckily got a hole, so it ended up maybe being a start."
   A pop-up bunt from Katie Powell bounced off the glove of Haney, who was at the mound after missing the pitching duty in the first inning.
   The first run crossed after Terra Whaley hit a fielder's choice to shortstop, which drove in Byrd.
   "It kind of got in their heads with us getting runners on base, and it got us going to score some runs," said Byrd. "We left some people on base, but hopefully we'll correct that the next game."
   A bunt from Goulds followed to bring home Powell, and another fielder's choice from Jessica Blevins put the Warriors up 3-0 with one out.
   "In the fourth inning we had a couple of errors, and then a couple of plays at the plate where we didn't get the out," said Williams. "Even if we take out the first baseman in that situation, which I would have rather her do, we still lose because we didn't push any runs across."
   Happy Valley captured another run before the frame ended, as a sacrifice bunt by Jennifer Osborne brought home Goulds.
   Even though Dick had trouble at the beginning in a couple of innings, she always managed to gain her composure afterwards.
   Dick threw the first four innings, with her last pitch being off-speed to strike out Cougar second-baseman Amanda Geiser.
   "We had girls hurt and sore but everyone just battled," said Dick. "Everyone played good and Kortney did a good job defensively while Mandy did a great job behind the plate, and Terra also had a couple of nice catches in the outfield."
   The senior Goulds came from second base to the mound to replace Dick, where she pitched the last three frames of the contest.
   "I usually like to split them up, but if they're throwing a perfect game and not many pitches, then I'll let them keep going," said Killen. "When it's hot and 80 degrees out here, then I hate to push them to the limit when we don't have to."
   The Cougars were able to capture hits in the fifth and sixth frames, when Caitie Munal smacked a double to deep left field and Sarah Stone knocked a line drive to center.
   "We were 0-9 with runners in scoring position, and we couldn't push any runs across," said Williams. "We actually outhit them, but they executed when they had runners in scoring position and we didn't."
   Happy Valley had the chance to produce more runs in the bottom of the sixth as Blevins led off with a double to deep center field. Another hit from Christy Shell and an error on a throw from the third baseman, which pulled the first baseman off the bag, enabled Williams to reach safely and load the bases with one out.
   Just like in the first inning, the Warriors let the opportunity slip away by flying out in their next two attempts at bat with one frame left to play.
   "We left too many on a couple of times with less than two outs and didn't get them in, so we've got to connect and score on those when we have the big opportunities," said Killen.
   The Cougars tried to get things rolling in the final frame, after Brickey reached base on a single to shallow center field.
   Already being faced with one out, a line drive by Haney to the shortstop Powell resulted in a double play to end the contest.
   Happy Valley will wait to play the loser of the Elizabethton and Unicoi County game, while Sullivan Central takes on the winner. Elizabethton and Unicoi squeezed in two innings last night -- the Lady Devils lead 2-1 -- before the rest of the game was rained out.