By Rick Sheek
BLUFF CITY – Spring has barely arrived, but Elizabethton’s baseball team is wasting no time flexing its muscle and making a clear statement.
Winning their sixth straight, the Cyclones defeated previously undefeated Sullivan East 5-3 in Wednesday night’s Three Rivers Conference action at McKamey Field.
“Early, early, but anytime you’re playing East and Unicoi you know somebody’s going to get on a roll and start winning,” Elizabethton coach Joe Nix said. “You’ve got to take anything you can get. When it’s time to play either one of those teams you’ve got to scratch and claw, and either team can win. It just depends on who’s ahead on that last pitch, the last count.”
The Cyclones (6-1) move into a tie for first place with East (5-1). Each club is 4-1 in league play.
“This is very special,” said Elizabethton catcher Thomas Miller, who batted 3 for 3 with a home run and double while reaching safely in all four plate appearances. “They came to our place opening night and they beat us. We’ve been on a roll, last week one-out and this week one-out.
“We came in here confident, and knew that Wes was going to throw a great game. We were all behind him the entire time.”
Wes Montgomery went the distance on the mound in scattering eight hits. He struck out six and walked one.
“Wes did a heck of a job for us battling,” Nix said. “The look in his eyes when he came off the sixth inning, it was his. We told him to go out there, and we’ve got to have it.”
Elizabethton’s lone error placed a Patriot on base to open the bottom of the seventh. Second baseman Jordan Hinshaw, shortstop Chad Pritchard and first baseman Cody Guess then turned a double play.
After serving up an infield single, Montgomery and the Cyclones closed the book with a fly-out.
“Definitely some key defensive plays,” Nix said. “That double play was huge. Huge for the pitcher, knowing the defense is behind him and they’re working.
“And some big assists in the outfield. That’s always big. The defense came up big for us tonight.”
Miller clubbed a run-scoring double and Hinshaw tagged a sacrifice fly to put Elizabethton up 2-0 in the first. East answered with solo home runs from Aaron Boling and Ryan Flick, his over the Dave Rutherford Complex, to knot the affair.
Austin Smith’s run-scoring single in the second propeled the Cyclones ahead 3-2. In the third, Smith gunned down a baserunner at home when the left fielder hooked up with Miller.
Flick belted a run-scoring double off the center field wall to again tie it.
In the fourth, Elizabethton right fielder Quincy Jackson nailed a Patriot for the second out when he fired to third baseman Anthony Ward. Miller recorded the third out when he connected with Pritchard for a pick-off.
Miller cranked his first home run of the year, a solo shot, in the fifth to spur the Cyclones ahead for good.
“The first two at-bats I saw a couple of fastballs, and I was just spraying them back up the middle,” Miller said. “He wasn’t throwing me anything special, but then he made a mistake with a ball inside – and I was feeling my swing tonight, so I turned on it and sent it out.”
Pritchard completed the onslaught in the sixth with a run-scoring single. He batted 2 for 4, while Smith was 2 for 2 and reached safely in all three at-bats.
The Cyclones stole seven bases. Pritchard, the lead-off batter, recorded two steals.
“That’s kind of our team makeup,” Nix said. “We like to be aggressive. Sometimes it can bite us, but I’ll never let the kids be too aggressive.
“We try to be control aggressive. When you’re stupidly aggressive, that can hurt you sometimes. We like to push it.”
East southpaw Kyle Harris was touched for 11 hits. He fanned seven and walked four with a hit batter.
The Patriots’ Flick and Will Ellis were each 2 for 3.
“They may have had a little head of steam about them tonight, because they won that first one,” Miller said. “But we came back out and shoved it right back up theirs, so we’re feeling good about it.”
— — —
Elizabethton 210 011 0 — 5 11 1
Sullivan East 201 000 0 — 3 8 1
Montgomery and Miller. Harris and Ellis. W—Montgomery (2-0). L—Harris (1-1). HRs—Elizabethton: Miller (1); East: Boling (1), Flick (2).