Twins rip through Braves

By Allen LaMountain
ASST. SPORTS EDITOR
alamountain@starhq.com

   When the gears of a finely-tuned automobile mesh well, the vehicle is capable of high-performance, and the same can be said of any team sport. When the Elizabethton Twins put all the elements together on the diamond, the results can be spectacular, and usually in a victory.
   Such was the case on Friday night at Joe O'Brien Field when T.J. Prunty pitched six solid frames and the Twins bats cranked out 11 hits (five of those for extra bases) as 'Betsy won its fifth straight with an 8-4 decision over the Danville Braves.
   The win kept the Twins (20-16) in a dead-heat with Bristol for the top spot in the Appalachian League's West Division, and put 'Betsy four games over the .500 mark for the first time all season.
   Prunty -- a hard-luck hurler in most of his outings this season -- tossed five shutout frames at the Braves before tiring a bit in the sixth as Danville touched him for a run, but by that time the Twins had staked him to an eight-run advantage.
   "It definitely felt good to get a lot of runs, and get them early," said Prunty, who raised his record to 3-4 with the win. "Then it became my job to shut them down. My outfielders saved me a couple of times, and it's a total confidence thing when the defense plays well behind you. If someone hits the ball hard and your guys are there to get it and make a play."
   Prunty scattered five hits while striking out three and walking just one and lowered his earned run average from 5.00 to a respectable 4.36 in the process.
   "I had a good fastball working tonight," Prunty explained. "I wasn't real sure how to go at these guys because they hit my fastball last time (we faced them). But tonight Cory (Agar) said that he knew what he wanted to do, and it worked."
   Agar, Doug Deeds and Garret Guzman led the 'Betsy attack offensively, combining for a seven-for-11 night at the dish. Agar was 3-for-4 with an RBI, Guzman went 2-for-3 with two RBI, and Deeds finished 2-for-4 with a solo home run, a double and two runs batted in.
   Deeds hit a two-out blast the other way -- over the left-center field fence -- against Braves starter Kyle Davies, who came into the contest with a fine 4-1 record and a stellar 3.12 ERA in 40.1 innings of work, giving 'Betsy a 1-0 lead.
   In the last of the second singles by Agar and Guzman put Twins runners on first and second, and an error by Braves third baseman Josh Burrus loaded the sacks for Elizabethton. A grounder by Sandy Hiraldo got a run home, but Davies was able to work out of further damage in the frame.
   He wasn't so lucky in the third as Davies' control eluded him and 'Betsy sent nine men to the plate in scoring five times to chase Davies and stake Prunty to a huge lead.
   One-out walks to Deeds and Dusty Gomon brought Guzman to the dish, and he responded with a blast off the wall in dead center field that went for a two-run triple and gave the Twins a 4-0 lead. An RBI single by Agar and a two-run double by Edgardo LeBron, along with some shaky Danville defense, rounded out the 'Betsy run explosion and gave Elizabethton an 8-0 lead after three frames.
   "I haven't started too hot," said Guzman, who has a disappointing .235 batting average, but is among the league leaders in extra base hits with 15. "I'm just trying to have good at-bats, and I think that I'm a better hitter when I get the ball in the gaps. I'm not a big power guy, but I know I'm going good when I hit balls into the gaps, and lay off the high pitches."
   Danville finally broke through against Prunty in the sixth when Jeff Francoeur ripped a two-base knock to right and came around on an infield hit by Daniel Ruiz and a sacrifice fly by Matt Esquivel.
   In the seventh, Janewrys Simon was called upon to hold the fort for 'Betsy, but he has not pitched well this season, and Danville chased him before the frame was finished. Simon retired Kyle Roat to open the inning, but Mike Grasso singled, and one out later Jonathan Schuerholz also singled to bring Francoeur to the dish.
   Francoeur then finished his 3-for-4 night with a home run to right-center field to make it an 8-4 contest, and when Simon then issued a free pass to Ruiz, his night's work was over. Isaac Streich got the final out of the frame, then Twins manager Ray Smith called upon newcomer Jesse Crain to close out the Braves.
   Crain struck out the side in the eighth with a blazing fastball and a slider that had several Danville hitters swinging at something that simply wasn't there, but in the ninth Crain walked a pair of Braves hitters before Trent Oeltjen made a spectacular grab of a rising liner off the bat of Esquivel to end the contest.
   "My fastball is my best pitch," said Crain (2-0, 1.13) who played shortstop in addition to being a closer at the University of Houston. "I use the slider to keep hitters off balance so they don't just sit on the fastball. I have been in the right place at the right time so far, and I'm happy with that."