'Betsy rallies past Cardinals, season finale set for tonight

By Allen LaMountain

   Josh Hill and Pat Neshek gave the Elizabethton Twins bullpen a much-needed lift, and Cory Agar belted the game-winning hit in the last of the eighth on Monday night at Joe O'Brien Field in 'Betsy's 10-7 win over the Johnson City Cardinals.
   Hill pitched three and one-third innings to earn his second win of the season and Neshek pitched a one-two-three ninth for his 15th save of the season, as the Twins improved to 37-30 with the season-finale tonight against Johnson City (28-39).
   Hill used a sharp breaking pitch along with a better-than-average fastball to do something that Twins relievers have done little of the last few weeks, and that is to shut down the opposition. Hill surrendered no runs on just one hit, while striking out six and walking half as many.
   "The curve has always been my out pitch," said the Aussie right-hander Hill. "The bullpen has been down a little lately, but it's late in the season so my arm's may be a little tired. I haven't been here the entire season, so I still have some left."
   In the last 10 games the Twins bullpen has posted an ERA of 6.00, giving up 34 runs (24 earned) in 37.1 frames of work, so Hill's outing really was much-needed at the time.
   The Cardinals broke open a 3-2 ballgame by posting four runs in the fifth against Twins starter Julio DePaula, who pitched four and two-thirds frames on the night. Mike McCoy and Eduardo Reyes each singled to lead off the fifth and Terry Evans smacked his 21st double of the season to leftfield to plate McCoy.
   One-out later Daylon Monette's sacrifice fly brought home Reyes to give the Cards a 5-2 lead, and a single off the bat of Andrew Davie made it a 6-2 contest. A wild pitch by DePaula and an error by shortstop J.R. Taylor plated Davie and Twins manager Ray Smith called on Hill.
   DePaula worked four and two-thirds innings, giving up seven runs (six earned) on nine hits before giving way to Hill, who retired Marcos Rodriguez on strikes to stop the bleeding for Betsy.
   In the bottom of the sixth, Garrett Guzman sparked a three-run Twins uprising against Cards reliever Brad Wehrfritz by launching a moon-shot home run over the scoreboard and the Pepsi sign in right field, as well as the building behind them. For Guzman, it was his sixth homer of the season and raised his team-leading RBI total to 48.
   Agar and Doug Deeds followed Guzman's blast with base knocks, and one-out later Sandy Hiraldo singled to load the bases as JC skipper Brian Rupp elected to stick with Wehrfritz. Peter Martinez was plunked by an errant Wehrfritz delivery to force home Agar, and Taylor atoned for his miscue with an RBI single to close the gap to 7-6 after six innings.
   'Betsy tied the game at 7-7 in the seventh against lefty Hal Chafey as Agar, Deeds and Danny Matienzo each recorded one-out singles. Matienzo's hit plated Agar and enabled Matienzo to break through after three straight strikeouts in the game.
   In the eighth Taylor walked and with one-out Daniel Marin reached on the third Cardinal error of the game -- this by shortstop McCoy -- and Guzman walked to load the bases again for 'Betsy. Rupp then went to his bullpen for lefty Jason Galbriath, who had earned a save in Sunday's 13-12 Cardinal win.
   Galbraith ran the count to 3-1 to Agar and the big right-handed hitter was looking for something sweet to swing at.
   "I had watched him in the bullpen warming up, and I knew he was a little wild," said Agar. "I just tried to pick one out that I could get some lift on. The last thing I wanted to do was hit into a double-play on a ground ball."
   Agar then completed his 3-for-5 night at the dish with a two-run double on the next pitch to stake 'Betsy to a 9-7 lead, and Deeds drew a walk to force home the Twins 10th run of the night and make a winner of Hill.
   "It's nice to see the guys haven't shut it down just yet," said Smith, "although it looked like that early on with errors and miscommunication. You hope that your team looks a little crisper than that at this stage. I'm happy for Cory though. He has been shelved for a lot of the season and no one tries harder than he does. It killed him not to be out there." l Bouton.
   Furman didn't look far for its coaching replacement, as assistant Bobby Lamb takes over for Johnson.
   Lamb thinks the fact they kept it in house will help the Paladins make a smooth transition.
   "It's not quite as big of a change as it seems on the outside," Lamb said.
   Billy Napier enters his second season at quarterback after completing 62.3 percent of his passes last season. His favorite target will most likely be Bear Rinehart, who caught 34 passes in 2001.
   Furman lost seven starters on defense, but defensive tackle Lebryan Sperling has started 31 games in his career and is a force to be reckoned with.
   Furman's first game should be the most intriguing of all the Non-Conference games involving SoCon teams. The Paladins play Coach Johnson's Vanderbilt Commodores Sept. 7 in Nashville.
   The Bulldogs showed a lot of promise last season despite winning only two Southern Conference games. The Citadel returns most of its personnel from a team that lost to Appalachian State 8-6, Georgia Southern 14-6 and Western Carolina 28-25.
   "A lot of people feel like we're going to be a better football team," The Citadel head coach Ellis Johnson said. "I think we've got a chance to be. But we've got some huge questions marks that are going to have to be answered."
   The Citadel might have been picked even higher if it wasn't for quarterback Mazzie Drummond's academic woes. That position will now go to Auburn transfer Jeff Klein or Joe Call.
   The strength of the team seems to be on defense, as linebacker Lamar Sales leads an experienced group.
   After talk about the Terriers maybe challenging Georgia Southern, Furman and Appalachian State in 2001, Wofford bombed out at 4-7 overall and 3-5 in Southern Conference play.
   "It was not a good year," Wofford head coach Mike Ayers said. "Our expectations were extremely high, and things didn't work out. But last year's gone and this year is a new year."
   The Terriers lost quarterback Travis Wilson to graduation, but return fullback Melvin Jones. Jones rushed for 905 yards in 2001.
   On defense, nose tackle Nathan Fuqua is a three-time All-Southern Conference selection. Fuqua is the school's all-time leader for tackles for loss.
   Also back on defense is Matt Nelson, who also was an All-SoCon pick a year ago.
   Chattanooga head coach Donnie Kirkpatrick hopes that the medical bills won't be as high for his football players this season.
   Injuries decimated the Mocs' program in 2001, which led to a 3-8 season (1-7 in SoCon).
   Kirkpatrick thinks if the Mocs stay healthy, they could improve this year.
   "We should be vastly improved," Kirkpatrick said. "Last year I thought we were rebuilding a little bit, and that was before we were going to get all those guys injured. I thought this year we would have a chance to be a little bit better, and we should be.
   The Mocs might have gotten a lot better with the transfer of UCLA quarterback Ryan McCann. Kirkpatrick believes he can be one of the top players in the SoCon.
   "He's a good player," Kirkpatrick said. "He's as good a player as the league's got. He's 6-4 about 235 pounds. He runs really well and throws really well. He's really fit into our system, and has fit in really well with our kids."
   The defense has a lot of question marks, but linebacker Josh Cain was a second-team All-American last season.
   The Keydets will be leaving the Southern Conference after this season to join the Big South. VMI head coach Cal McCombs hopes that the Keydets last season in this league will be one to remember.
   "The players are wanting to go out with a bang," McCombs said.
   The Keydets can only go up. VMI finished last season 1-10 overall (1-7 in SoCon).
   VMI does have nine starters on offense returning, including quarterback Joey Gibson. Gibson completed 52 percent of his passes in 2001.
   Lineman Matt Kluk and linebacker Chris Walsh lead a VMI defense that returns eight starters.