Lady Cyclones unable to put dent in Lenoir

By Rebecca Pierson
STAR Staff

   LENOIR CITY--The Elizabethton Lady Cyclones (22-20) softball team made it as far as they have ever had before on Friday -- a chance to compete for a trip to the state tournament.
   The Lenior City Panthers (27-10) stopped that trip short by defeating the Cyclones 8-0 through seven innings.
   The first inning was a decisive one, with Mary Edgar caught out with a fly to right field, and then Lenior's pitcher, senior Tommee Hicks, striking out Jessica Robinson and Kristie Keys.
   That would be the story for Elizabethton at bat for the rest of the game, with Hicks totaling 15 strikeouts, giving up just one hit and yielding no walks.
   "We ran into a buzz saw," said Elizabethton head coach Ken Hardin. "We ran into a great ball club. That little pitcher is probably the best I have seen this year. She has a great career ahead of her. They have a great team and I wish them the best of luck."
   "Tommee is a great pitcher," Lenior head coach Kim Miles said. "We couldn't have gotten this far without her. She is tough. We are real fortunate to have her."
   The Panthers came in the bottom of the first with six runs off of key Cyclone errors. Hicks, Andie Jackson, Sarah Vaughn, Megan House and Laura Bledsoe each had RBIs.
   "We were a little nervous at first and I think it showed," Hardin said. "We just made a few big mistakes at the worst possible time. Good teams make you pay for those mistakes."
   The second inning opened with the lone Eliabethton hit by Katie Hubbard, who hit a line drive down the center for a double. However, Tia Nave, Lana Blevins and Abbie Jenkins all struck out, unable to bring Hubbard around.
   In the third, Maggie Austin bunted for a single, but was questionably called out on first. Edgar popped a fly out at first.
   Nave also had an impressive hit down the center, but Lenior short stop Sarah Vaughn made a diving catch for the out. Edgar and Kristie Keys also had good hits down the center, but were both caught out. Every other time at bat, they were struck out.
   "This is the first time we have been this far and I am really proud of my girls," Hardin said. "I won't take anything away from them. I told them, 'Do not hang your head at this point.'"
   "We have went farther than we thought we would," he said. "We set goals to be competitive, and I think we have done that. We wanted to play bigger schools, and we have done that. We have had a great season.
   "I am just super proud of them. The whole team has come together as a unit. They have supported one another and that is what it takes to get to this level. We have to take this as a learning experience. If we get back to this place next year, we will know what it takes."
   Lenior will head to tournament play in Memphis on Tuesday. Last year, they had a fourth-place finish in the state.
   "Last year was just a surprise, and we were excited to be there," Miles said about her team going to state in back-to-back years. "We play a tough schedule, so we can do this. We were expected to go back this year. Only losing two seniors, we pretty much had the same team."