Defending their Little Watauga championship became a bit harder for Happy Valley Middle School on Friday afternoon at Cannon-Gouge Park as the Junior Warriors dropped a 4-3 decision to Johnson County Middle School in the tournament opener.
The eight-inning victory for the Junior Longhorns saw pitcher Nick Whitener go the distance and deliver four hits from his leadoff spot, including driving in the game-winning run.
“I pitched as hard as I could,” Whitener said. “My defense did a good job making the plays behind me. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have won, I’m glad they were there. In the last inning we were just trying to get guys on base, and when we did it was up to me to drive them in.”
HVMS grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the first as the visiting team as Ty Hurley reached on an infield hit and went to second on a ground out.
First baseman Ryne Baines delivered Hurley with a base hit back up the middle, but was thrown out trying to make it to second. JCMS catcher Samuel Icenhour took the throw from the outfield and, after spotting Baines rounding first, made a nice throw to the bag at second for the out.
In the last of the first, Whitener opened with a double to center and Payton Fenner was plunked by HVMS lefty Caleb Jones. Icenhour beat out a single to third but Baines alertly caught Whitener coming to the plate and threw him out.
Cody Bailie then delivered a drive to deep center field that caught Hurley playing in, and the ball went all the way to the fence in center with all three runners scoring on the play.
“It’s ironic that Bailie has hit two home runs and they were both inside-the-park hits off the same pitcher,” said JCMS head coach Julian Crews. “He did it at our place and again today. You don’t see that very often. I think we played well defensively, made some heads up plays and we couldn’t have won without that.
“I want to take this opportunity to thank my players, my family and God.”
Bailie’s blast gave the ’ Horns a 3-1 lead after one inning, but the Warriors began whittling away at the lead in the third frame. With one away Jones singled to right and went to third on an error by Whitener on a throw to first.
Baines collected his second RBI of the game with a sacrifice fly to center that scored Jones to make it a 3-2 contest.
In the fifth frame, the Warriors tied the game as Jones doubled to center with two away and once again Baines delivered a key hit for his third RBI — driving in Jones in once again.
Jones worked out of trouble in the last of the fifth when JCMS loaded the bases on a single by Whitener a walk by Fenner and an infield hit by Icenhour with one away.
“Both pitchers were laboring at that point, but they stuck with it, made their pitches and got out of it,” said HVMS head coach Danny Carder. “Their guy pitched a good game and got out of a bases-loaded jam himself by making a good pitch to Caleb, who hit it right to the shortstop.”
Jones then got Bailie to hit a ball to third, where Chris Young fielded the ball and threw home to force Whitener at the dish. With two away, ’Horns second baseman Logan Sargent hit a sinking shot to center field, where Hurley made a nice catch coming in toward the infield.
Crews, however, wasn’t convinced that Hurley hadn’t trapped the ball and had a few words with the umpire, who made the call on his way back to the dugout.
“I didn’t have a good angle on the play to see if he made the catch,” said Crews. “The umpire said he made the catch, so we have to live with it. If he doesn’t make the catch, we win in regulation instead of in extra innings.”
Carder relieved Jones with Justin Morefield in the eighth, and after retiring the first batter Morefield walked the eight and nine hitters and added a wild pitch to put Caleb Throop at third and bring the dangerous Whitener to the plate.
Whitener delivered a looping single to shallow left that plated Throop with the winning run and put HVMS’ backs to the wall in the double elimination tournament.
“In that situation with runners on second and third, I had to pull the infield in,” Carder explained. “And he just dropped one in there. That’s baseball. That’s the great thing about double elimination is that we will play whoever loses between Hampton and Providence on Monday, so we still got life. Tomorrow’s another day.”
For HVMS, Baines finished 2-for-3 with a sacrifice fly and three runs batted in, while Kyte was 3-for-4 on the day. Jones pitched seven innings giving up eight hits while walking five and striking out four.
Happy Valley 101 010 00 — 3 12 0
Johnson Co. 300 000 01 — 4 9 1
Jones, Morefield (8) and Kyte. Whitener and Icenhour. W—Whitener. L—Morefield. LOB—HVMS 10, JCMS 9. HR—Bailie. 2B—Whitener, Jones.