By Rick Sheek
MOUNTAIN CITY — Elizabethton is inching closer to capturing the Three Rivers Conference baseball title.
The Cyclones whipped Johnson County 15-4 on Monday. They now hold a two-game lead atop the league standings, after Sullivan East went down to Unicoi County.
“Just come out and put some pressure on the other team, that’s what we had to do,” Elizabethton coach Joe Nix said. “Especially on days like this where it’s not real conducive to playing baseball, but you’ve just got to take them one pitch at a time and keep on going.”
The Cyclones (18-6, 11-1) led 11-0 in the fifth inning, before the Longhorns (10-9, 5-8) punched in a pair of runs to avoid the slaughter rule.
“Elizabethton is a very good baseball team,” Johnson County coach Pete Pavusek said. “You have to play well to compete with them, and we did not play well. The final score shows that.”
Austin Smith hurled the six innings for Elizabethton, scattering nine hits while allowing the four earned runs. He struck out three and walked one with a wild pitch.
Wes Montgomery batted 3 for 5 with two RBIs. Thomas Miller was 2 for 4 with two RBIs.
Conner Campbell also went 2 for 4. Eric Carter and Anthony Ward each plated two runs, while Chad Pritchard stole two bases.
“We were glad to be able to get it in with the weather,” Nix said. “They did a good job of getting the field ready so we could play.”
Andy Woods lasted one inning for Johnson County, yielding three hits, four earned runs and fanning one and walking one. Harley Reece pitched the final five innings, getting roughed up for 11 hits, allowing four earned runs and walking one.
Reece and Ryan Mahala each batted 2 for 3. The Longhorns committed six errors.
“Just a nightmare on defense,” Pavusek said. “Fortunately baseball is a game where you play day after day. Tomorrow is a new day.
“We have to flush this. We’d been playing well prior to today. We laid an egg today.”
The Cyclone surged to a 4-0 advantage in the first inning. Ward belted a two-run double, Campbell delivered a run-scoring double and later scored himself on a double steal.
In the bottom half, third baseman Cody Richardson, second baseman Jordan Hinshaw and Ward at first base turned a double play.
Elizabethton stranded a runner on third in the second. The Cyclones turned another double play in the second when the shortstop Pritchard gloved a line drive and fired to Ward.
After Elizabethton was sent down 1-2-3 in the third, Johnson County’s Judd Hammons singled with two before being stranded. The fourth saw Chris Lanthorn and Miller unleash two-run singles to push the rout to 8-0.
Carter, pinch-hitting, ripped a two-run single in the fifth. Montgomery drove in a score to make it 11-0.
In the bottom half, Henson tripled to lead off. Wade Hampton and Chad Hodgkiss roped run-scoring singles to cut the deficit to 11-2.
Pritchard tagged a two-run single in the sixth. Miller and Montgomery followed with run-scoring singles to make it 15-2.
Johnson County got its final two scores after Mahala’s run-scoring single and Henson’s RBI.
The coach insists he is concerned about jet lag in the trek up the mountain. It obviously did not occur.
“That’s the one worry everytime we come up here, that we come off the bus a little flat,” Nix said. “We came out loose. We didn’t take particularly good infield, but we were extremely loose — which I took as a good sign.
“We came out and swung the bats well, and Austin did a good job on the mound.”
Elizabethton 400 434 — 15 14 1
Johnson Co. 000 022 — 4 9 6
Woods, Reece (2) and Hampton, R. Smith (5). A. Smith and Miller. W—A. Smith (6-1). L—Woods (1-5).
KINGSPORT — Chris Lanthorn banged out four hits, Wes Montgomery struck out eight batters and the Cyclones, with a run in the bottom of the seventh, survived North.