Elizabethton hangs on to best Bluefield

By Wes Holtsclaw

   The Elizabethton Twins rode a crazy train Sunday night.
   Using a solid five-run spree in the third inning, the Twins took a 6-1 lead over the Bluefield Orioles. However, the Birds flew back into the game and shook the 'Betsy bullpen with four runs in the seventh and eighth innings.
   Luckily for the home team, solid pitching from Julio DePaula and John Lynch pulled the Twins out of trouble late in the game, preserving a close 6-5 victory at Joe O'Brien Field.
   "Our bullpen fell some tonight," said Elizabethton coach Ray Smith. "Lately they've been doing a good job for us and our starters were down until yesterday. Tonight we had some letups off the ball."
   Japanese ace Hiroyuki Lida gave up two runs off of an error and a wild pitch before German Tim Henkenjohann was shaken up by the Orioles.
   "It was Tim's first game, and like any league he probably had some butterflies," Smith said. "He got behind a few, but he'll be better. DePaula did a good job, and we brought in Lynch to shut down their lefty; he finished things off for us."
   Bluefield opened with a double from Elvis Morel and got on the board in the second inning with a single from Cory Shafer. Henry Guererro drove in Shafer to give the Orioles a 1-0 lead.
   Elizabethton got things going in the third inning after big singles from J.R. Taylor, Jason Pospishill and Denard Span to load the bases. Felix Molina drove in Taylor with a sacrificed fly before Kyle Phillips took charge with a two-run double.
   Oriole pitcher Richal Acosta was rocked on the mound after he hit Dusty Goman, and Brock Peterson got on with a fielder's choice. Ryan Spataro stepped up and sent a roaring shot into left-center field, driving in two more runs to give the Twins a 5-1 lead.
   The speedy Taylor opened the third with a big triple for Elizabethton, then scored on a Pospishill flyer to push the score to 6-1.
   The Twins got solid pitching from Chris Marini and Evan Meek to open the game before things fell apart in the seventh and eighth.
   Robert Estrada got on with an error to open the seventh for Bluefield. He came home on an Artero Rivas single, and Rivas scored on a wild pitch to pull the Birds within three.
   The Orioles repeated things in the eighth after Shafer and Tim Gilhooley walked. Shafter scored on a wild pitch before Morel brought Gilhooley across as part of a fielder's choice.
   The Twins closed things out defensively from that point on, sealing the victory.
   Phillips, Goman and Taylor singled for the Twins, who had little luck scoring after their strong third-inning rally. Taylor finished the game 3-for-4, leading the team with nine hits to begin the season.
   "J.R. has been consistent this season and taking charge of his offense, showing some leadership on the field," said Smith. "He's having success in his offensive part of the game, and it raises his defense. It seems like every time we rally, he's in the middle and become a much better player."
   "I'm seeing it and hitting it," said Taylor, an Oakland, Calif. native. "I'm trying to hit it better and start a new streak offensively. I'm playing better offensively and trying to do what I can to help the team."
   Taylor was also a part of some crucial outs late in the game.
   "The defensive part of my game is my first priority, but I'm glad my offense is shaping up," he said. "Once it does, everything is good for me."
   The Twins travel to Martinsville for a three-game spread before hosting Johnson City on Thursday's Child Safety Night. Each fan will receive a "Booze it or Lose it" key chain, and trained technicians will be present to check child safety seats.
   Kyle Phillips went 3-for-5 for the Twins, while Pospishill added a pair of hits for Elizabethton. Elvis Morel was 2-for-5 for the Orioles.