By Tim Chambers
It took three decades and six years to break the drought, but Elizabethton’s 21st win on Monday night was the oasis needed to do the job.
An 8-5 triumph over Sulllvan North was refreshing to say the least. ’Betsy earned its first outright conference championship since 1976 on senior night at Joe O’Brien Field.
It appeared in the early going that the Cyclones would make quick work of the Golden Raiders, but the orange and black had a tough time of putting away the pesky nine from Bloomingdale.
“It’s a great accomplishment for this group of kids to win the league outright,” said Elizabethton skipper Joe Nix. “They’ve worked their tails off all season long. Winning the conference was our first goal, but it’s only the start. Give North credit because they’ve played us tough twice this year. Our kids never panicked — they just believed in one another to get the job done.”
Elizabethton (12-2, 21-7) used its speed to score a solo run in the first inning.
Chad Pritchard singled then moved to third on a wild pitch that allowed him to take two bases. Wes Montgomery’s sacrifice fly staked ’Betsy to an early advantage.
’Betsy tacked on four more in the second frame to increase its advantage to 5-0.
Cody Guess and Jordan Hinshaw drew walks and scored. Pritchard had an RBI single. Montgomery and Thomas Miller each drove home runs with two-baggers to aid the cause.
North took advantage of three walks and a hit batsman in the third inning to push across three runs. ’Betsy got one of those back in the bottom half with the help of Cory Richardson’s line-drive single.
Base hits by Nick Copas and Payton Marshall plus a costly Cyclone error led to a pair of Golden Raider runs being scored in the fourth inning. The Raiders might have tied the game, but a critical baserunning blunder prevented them from having a potential big inning.
Berry went four innings to get the win, but it was the relief effort by Montgomery that turned heads. The crafty right-hander no-hit North over the final three innings to record the save with five strikeouts.
“McKenly got a little frustrated at himself because he was having trouble spotting it a little bit,” said Nix. “He’s normally got better control, but there was never any panic in the dugout at all. He knew that Wes would get the job done and he did. Wes pitched outstanding. These kids rally around one another. That’s how it’s been all year.”
In addition to Montgomery, Elizabethton got some much-needed insurance from another pair of seniors in the sixth frame.
Jordan Hinshaw ripped a triple down the right-field line, then scored on Pritchard’s third hit of the game. Montgomery plated him with a hard shot through the wickets of North’s shortstop to account for ’Betsy’s final total.
“We were cellar dwellers during my freshman season, so it’s been a long four years,” said Hinshaw. “The last couple of years we’ve caught fire and played well because the coaches have worked us hard. A couple of teams got hot late but we just kept playing at a steady pace. On and off the field we’re a close knit bunch — not just during baseball season. Everyone believes in each other. To win the championship outright means everything to this team.
Pritchard ended the night going 3-for-4 with two RBIs and three runs scored. Milller and Quincy Jackson were 2-for-4 each. Hinshaw and Richardson added 1-for-2 performances with an RBI apiece. Montgomery drove home three runs and was 1-for-3.
Marshall had two of North’s four hits. Cory Rowe and Copas shared the other two.
Elizabethton will travel to Happy Valley today for a 4:30 p.m. contest at Cannon-Gouge Park.
Sull. North 003 200 0 — 5 4 1
Elizabethton 141 002 x — 8 10 2
West and Mimmick. Berry,, Montgomery (5) and Miller. W—Berry. L—West. Save—Montgomery.