Scoring opportunities were slim in Monday’s season-opening duel between two of the Three Rivers Conference’s top pitchers.
A two-run fifth inning was enough for Sullivan East to solve a three-hit, 11-strikeout complete game performance from Elizabethton senior starter McKenly Berry in a 3-1 win between the league favorites at Joe O’Brien Field.
“I told my guys, there’s going to be a lot of games like this,” Sullivan East coach Mike Breuninger said. “I think there’s some good teams in the league this year, Elizabethton being one of them. If you can score two runs in one inning, that’s huge.
“Pitching’s always ahead early and when you somebody like McKenly Berry, who’s going to be one of the best pitchers in the league, it makes it even tougher.”
Sullivan East ace Aaron Boling struck out four and scattered five hits with just one run allowed for the first win of the season. Boling put the Cyclones in tough positions at the plate and his defense made plays behind him.
“We knew coming in Boling was going to be on the mound,” said Elizabethton coach Joe Nix. “That kid can pitch. You’ve got to tip your hat to him. Heck, for my money that was one of the best pitching matchups in all of East Tennessee today. We had opportunities and have got to capitalize on them.”
Elizabethton missed key chances in the first and second innings, leaving runners stranded on second and third. East took advantage of its first one in the top of the third after a single from Boling, a two-out walk to Ryan Flick and single from Josh Jackson loaded the bags. A balk was called on Berry, allowing the first run to cross, but the Cyclone got out of the jam with a strikeout.
The Cyclones rallied in the bottom of the fourth with a single from freshman Connor Campbell. Wes Montgomery offered a 6-3 RBI groundout to tie the game at one all, but East quickly regained the momentum. After a walk to Logan Jordan opened the fifth inning, the Cyclones missed on a fielder’s choice grounder by Boling. A groundout from Austin White placed the runners in scoring position for Flick, who offered an RBI single, and Jackson on an RBI sacrifice fly.
Elizabethton, which out-hit its visiting foes 5-3, left two runners in scoring positions with two outs to give in the bottom of the fifth, however, and landed only one additional baserunner the rest of the way.
“(McKenly) pitched a heckuva game,” said Nix. “We had a couple of mental mistakes that gave them a couple of cheap runs, but, heck, they did what they had to do to score the runs and came through and capitalized in their situations.
“We definitely had our shots. We had the right guys up in the right spots, we’ve got to have those guys take charge and have that look in their eyes that they’re going to do their jobs.”
Along with Campbell and Montgomery, Thomas Miller, Chad Pritchard and Austin Smith had singles for the Cyclones. Boling, Flick and Jackson tallied one apiece for the Patriots.
Elizabethton resumes league play with Happy Valley at The Joe tonight at 7 o’clock.
Sull. East 3, Elizabethton 1
Sullivan East 001 020 0 — 3 3 0
Elizabethton 000 100 0 — 1 5 1
Bailey and Jos. Jackson. Berry and Miller. W—Bailey (1-0). L—Berry (0-1).