Upset by EHS, Lady Warriors see season end

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR STAFF
mbirchfield@starhq.com

   Early in the season it was mentioned that the Elizabethton girls would be capable of giving other teams a fit come tournament time.
   On Thursday, the Lady Cyclones proved that statement to be true when they knocked off the co-champs of the Watagua Conference in a 3-0 losers' bracket final, which ended Happy Valley's season in the District 1-AA softball tournament.
   "We had absolutely nothing to lose, and we just wanted to come over here and play loose," said Elizabethton coach Kenny Hardin. "The girls just stepped up and I can't say enough about how they played. They played great."
   Elizabethton came out dressed in its distinctive camouflage uniforms in salute of their assistant coach Aimee Richardson, who'll be heading off to Iraq for military duties in June.
   The Cyclones started off playing like an elite group of soldiers who were ready to engage in the battle out on the field, as a couple of hits stunned the Warriors in the first inning.
   Mary Edgar began the game with a double to deep left-center field, and a rip up the middle from Jessica Robinson put the Cyclones in great shape with no outs.
   "We really deserved it -- we worked hard for this," said Robinson. "We had a lot of confidence we could beat them and we played our hearts out."
   Happy Valley escaped the attack after a pop-up to the second baseman, Alicia Dick, captured the first out, then a line-out to shortstop Katie Powell and throw and tag at third base executed a double-play.
   The second frame was not as forgiving to the Warriors, after senior pitcher Kortney Goulds struggled on the mound, giving up four straight hits.
   "They had about four or five hits in that inning which scored their runs, and we had hits, but they were not back-to-back and didn't bring in any runs," said Happy Valley coach Karri Killen. "I don't know if we were not ready or what, but we just didn't get the job done, and I wish the best of luck to them."
   Things started for 'Betsy, with a ball being hit to center field by Lana Blevins, which took a bad hop over the center fielder's head.
   A single to shallow center by Abbie Jenkins set up the go-ahead run from Brittany Smith, who single to drive home Blevins.
   Whitney Lyons followed with a shot up the middle to bring in Jenkins, which forced the Warriors to make a pitching change on the mound.
   Dick took over for Goulds, and before she could stop the bleeding a hit from Edgar to deep center field scored Smith, with the center fielder falling down on the retrieval.
   The Cyclones had a 3-0 advantage by the end of the frame, which ended up being enough with the type of defense they displayed.
   "Our bats came around and we played one of the best defensive games we have, and we got the hits at the right time, which was enough," said Hardin.
   Elizabethton stopped the Warriors in the bottom of the second, after Terra Whaley led off with a double to left center and Jessica Blevins connected on an infield single.
   A nice over-the-shoulder catch from Blevins and then a ground-out to the pitcher, Robinson, ended the Warriors' chances of scoring, as they left runners stranded on base in every inning, with the exception of the first.
   "We had a good year, but you're not going to beat anybody when you don't score," said Killen. "They got the hits, they made the plays, and we didn't. We didn't have anybody step up when we needed key hits, and that's the difference. They did and you can't take anything away from them."
   The Warriors had leadoff hits from Whaley and Goulds in the fourth, but a strikeout from the pitcher Robinson and two fielding outs became the sad drumbeat sound for Happy Valley.
   Mandy Byrd captured her only hit on the evening when she hit a blooper over the top of first base during the fifth frame.
   A fly-out to Blevins and a knock down by Robinson on a liner enabled Edgar to make the grab and throw to first for the final out of the frame.
   "Our confidence was up today, and now after we've beat them I think we can give Unicoi County a run for their money," said Edgar. "We're not as shaky and we've worked really hard through the season and stepped up."
   Happy Valley captured just one hit in the sixth frame -- a double to the right-center field fence by Jessica Blevins -- but a strikeout on Jennifer Osborne left the runner stranded at second.
   The Warriors held Elizabethton from scoring in the final frame, after both Robinson and Katie Hubbard connected on singles.
   "It was our confidence levels -- we knew we could hit it, and we did well," said Robinson. "We're really proud of ourselves and excited. I think since we beat Happy Valley it gives us a lot more confidence that we can beat Unicoi."
   The Cyclones hit the ball exceptionally well all game long, as they finished with eight of their nine hitters connecting on 11 hits total.
   There was one last shot left for Happy Valley in the bottom of the seventh, and a fielding error, which allowed Randi Williams to reach base, was the break the Warriors needed.
   A blooper from Powell over the middle kept the hopes alive, and a grounder from Dick to right field loaded the bases with two outs.
   Whaley had gone 2-for-3 at that point on the day, but a groundout to the second-baseman ended the season for the Warriors.
   "There's never enough when you play Happy Valley. They showed a tremendous amount of heart in that last inning and would not quit," said Hardin. "They have nothing to be ashamed of."
   Happy Valley finished with a great year by tying Unicoi County for the regular-season championship, but the loss brings an end to the outstanding senior careers of Byrd, Whaley, Dick and Goulds.
   "Hey, great season, great girls, and I couldn't have asked for a better group of girls, but it's done and I wish them the best of luck," said Killen.
   Elizabethton, however, enjoys its first-ever trip to both the district championship game, where it will face Unicoi today at 5 p.m., and a first-ever berth in the regional.
   "This has been leaps and bounds, because we're so young with one senior and two juniors. It's just a fantastic thing for us," said Hardin. "Great things to come for this team in the future and were not done just yet. We're not just happy being there. We want to really accomplish something."