JC American rally derails EN All-Stars

By Marvin Birchfield

   After getting off to a great start, the Elizabethton National League 12-year-old All-Stars sputtered in the late innings, as Johnson City American came back to collect a 9-7 victory in a losers' bracket final on Monday night at T.J. Burleson Field.
   Elizabethton National is eliminated from reaching the district tournament after squandering a 7-0 leading through the first three and a half innings of play.
   "I just feel for the kids. They have battled and had an eight and twelve-inning game in this tournament, plus they came back and won the other night in the top of the sixth," said Elizabethton National manager Bill McKinney. "They have battled so hard, I just felt like they deserved (to win)."
   In the top of the first, leadoff hitter Lance Reed fired up the Elizabethton offense by belting a hit. A single from Benjamin McKinney scored the first two runs for Elizabethton, driving home Reed and Nolan Childers.
   It was a 4-0 lead enjoyed by Elizabethton when a hit from Casey Crapps brought in pinch-runner Garrett Dykes and Justin Fuqua.
   Elizabethton escaped the top of the first without giving up a run, after the first three batters reached base to load them.
   A force out at second base captured the final out of the frame for Elizabethton, as it dodged the early bullet from Johnson City.
   After two consecutive walks to the first two hitters in the top of the third, Elizabethton struck again when a fielding error off a hit from Fuqua allowed Dykes to score.
   Another mistake -- not making the step on second base for the force out by the shortstop -- prevented the second out, while Craig Sheets came home after a throw was made to first.
   Zack Montgomery drove in the last run for Elizabethton, when a ground-out to the second-baseman enabled Fuqua to cross home plate.
   "You've got to give them credit. They came back, and we just quit hitting it," said McKinney. "They got a few here and there, and then they were right back in it."
   It wasn't looking good for Johnson City American heading into the bottom of the third, as it had already dug itself into a 7-0 deficit.
   "If you asked me after the third inning if these boys were going to win the ball game, then I wouldn't have bet a nickel on it," said Johnson City manager Tony Schill.
   But Johnson City came alive in the frame to score three runs and cut the lead down to four.
   "All year long with our regular season team and when we started All-Stars, we've preached to these kids that you play a six-inning game, and they never quit," said Schill.
   A hit to right field from Andrew Sims brought the first two scores to the plate, with Jake McIntosh and Daniel Sharpe coming home.
   Shawn Jordan connected on another hit to right field to bring in Dalton Williams for the third run of the inning, as new life was being brought to the Johnson City dugout.
   "We were real excited at that point. Our guys were up, and then they got those three runs and we put our heads down," said McKinney. "I tried to get them back up and told them we still had a four-run lead, but you don't know what you're going to get from kids sometimes, but I'm still proud of them."
   A McIntosh solo home run that went just inside the right-field pole in the bottom of the fourth drew Johnson City within three runs, and the tide had definitely turned in Johnson City's favor.
   Johnson City elected to bring McIntosh to the mound in the final two frames, which didn't help a struggling Elizabethton offense.
   "I don't have an absolute horse pitcher, and I pitch by committee the whole tournament, so they've won by playing team baseball and everybody has contributed," said Schill.
   The bottom of the fifth became crucial in the Johnson City comeback, as it capitalized off of three errors and five hits.
   Clinton Lady smacked a hit to center field to drive home Sims and Kelby Arrowood and close the gap to one run.
   Elizabethton decided to make a pitching change and brought Chris Dunbar to the mound, replacing Zack Montgomery.
   It didn't make much difference who McIntosh was facing though, as he went 3-for-3 from the plate and crushed his second home run of the night.
   "Jake McIntosh has an absolute world of ability, said Schill. "He's a big, old raw-boned boy, and there is no stopping him. He works hard in practice and can obviously hit a baseball."
   The homer brought in Lady and Winston Osborne, giving Johnson City a two-run lead heading into the last frame.
   Jordan Meredith led off with a single to right field to start the final inning, but Elizabethton was unable to make the rally with consecutive outs coming the last three hitters.