ERWIN — Four-plus innings of momentum appeared to float away. Jordan Hinshaw’s bat covered the drain and Elizabethton’s seniors finally solved Unicoi on the road.
After the Blue Devils scored two runs in the bottom of the fifth to take control of the game, the Cyclone senior landed a two-run 335-foot blast over the centerfield wall to lift the visitors to a 3-2 conference victory over the Devils Tuesday at Baxter Field.
“We had the momentum at our back all game long,” said Hinshaw. “We hadn’t won a game here, our seniors, in all four years we’ve been here, so we knew we had to come up big with something.
“Our offense was hitting the ball all night, it was just right at them. I was lucky enough that it carried enough.”
McKenly Berry picked up the win in a complete game effort. After surrendering three hits a walk and two runs in the fifth, Berry struck out three and put the defense in good position to make key stops to protect the lead.
“I definitely had a lot of hard thoughts in my head,” said Berry, who struck out five and walked two with five hits and two runs allowed. “We stuck together and kept our head in it. Last week we came back from a lot more, but this team, their skill level is a lot more than that team. We played hard and we won.”
Elizabethton jumped out in front of the home team in the bottom of the first. Wes Montgomery and Thomas Miller singled to place runners on first and third.
Miller, attempting a steal, was tossed out but Montgomery dashed home in the process for the 1-0 lead.
Defensive stops told the story until the fifth when Unicoi came alive.
Starting pitcher Austin Greene helped his own cause with a single followed by a walk to Brandon Foy. The two runners advanced a base on a wild pitch, setting up an RBI single from Austin Garrabrant.
A sac-fly from William McInturff plated the go-ahead run.
Gavin Whitson added a single, but Berry got out of the frame with a strikeout and 1-3 play.
With one out on the board, the Cyclones caught a break in the top of the sixth when Anthony Ward reached safely on an error by Whitson at short. Hinshaw, who flew out to center and reached on an infield error his second attempt, put the sweet spot on the ball and it carried just enough for the score.
“That ball I hit a little out front,” Hinshaw said. “I thought it was carrying and I saw (the Unicoi centerfielder) stop at the fence.”
With the lead, the Cyclone defense went back to work.
Ryan Lingerfelt appeared to get Unicoi going again with a leadoff single, but a 1-4-6-3 double play off the bat of Ethan Rice set up Berry’s strikeout of Green to force a decisive seventh.
Brandon Foy reached on an error to give the Devils some hope in its final opportunity, reaching second on a sacrifice bunt attempt from Garrabrant. But the runner got off the bag long enough for Miller to make a pickoff attempt from behind the plate.
Hinshaw blocked the ball as Foy took off towards third, landing a throw with third baseman Anthony Ward for the tag.
“We had tried it earlier in the game and that’s something we have been on the same page with all year,” said Miller. “We noticed things like that, runners getting too much. I took a chance with it. It’s a dangerous throw. It goes out and he’s at third and that’s even closer to scoring. Luckily he blocked it up and we got the play at third.”
Berry struck out McInturff and it was all she wrote.
“We’re not hitting the ball particularly well, we’re playing decent defense and we’re pitching well,” said Elizabethton coach Joe Nix. “We’ve got to have all three factors everyday. We didn’t have all three factors today, but slowly but surely we’re becoming a total team.”
Berry picked up the win over Green, who gave up three runs and six hits over six innings for the Blue Devils. Nix said the Cyclones’ ability to bounce back from the mound is a good sign, especially early in the season.
“Coach (Nathan) Fritz has done a heckuva job getting those guys physically and mentally prepared,” Nix said. “The middle of the game, that’s been huge. We haven’t just caved and given up. We’ve had a couple of crooked numbers and we’ve come back and that’s what we’ve got to see time and time again. That’s the mark of a good team. I’d rather not play from behind but hopefully we can keep it up a little bit.”
Along with Montgomery, Miller and Hinshaw. Connor Campbell, Qunicy Jackson and Cody Guess each had one hit each for the Cyclones, who kept their momentum rolling following last Monday’s season-opening loss to Sullivan East whom they visit today for a key conference rematch.
“East is a great ball club,” said Hinshaw. “We scrapped and fought with them last Monday and felt like we gave one away, but they’re a good ball team nonetheless. We caught momentum against Happy Valley and have been rolling ever since. We hope to carry it into tomorrow.”
Nix hopes the experience his team has gained since their early meeting will be a difference.
“Hopefully we’ve kind of gotten over the hump a little bit,” Nix said. “We’ve played a lot of new guys. For some of them that was their first varsity experience. We hope they just relax and play the game the way they’re capable because East has more than they showed the first time, too. It should be a heckuva ball game.”
Elizabethton 100 002 0 — 3 6 1
Unicoi Co. 000 020 0 — 2 5 3
Berry and Miller. Green, Simpson (7) and Graham. W—Berry. L—Green. HR—Elizabethton, Hinshaw.