Since 2007, Cloudland Middle School baseball has known only one thing: losing.
However, on Friday afternoon at Holsclaw Field, the Junior Highlanders finally tasted victory with a 9-5 win over the Junior Rangers.
“Some of these kids have brothers that are juniors and seniors at the high school,” said CMS head coach Robbie Turbyfill. “Those were the last kids to get a win in baseball. These kids have worked hard, and I have had the best time coaching them. I really enjoy coaching baseball and they all want to learn. Today we did the small stuff that you have to do to win.”
Seventh-grader Brinkley Mull took the hill for Cloudland and went the distance, giving up 10 hits while striking out four and walking two.
“It feels really good to get a win,” said Mull. “We did a pretty good job of fielding the ball which was a big help. It helps a lot to know my team’s behind me.”
Both teams had to battle weather conditions and a 40- minute delay for lightning after the fourth frame was complete.
The ’Landers drew first blood in the top of the first when shortstop Chandler Starnes nailed a one-out triple to right field and was plated by an RBI single from third baseman James Arwood.
Unaka drew even in its half of the frame when second baseman Isaac Hill singled and shortstop Austin Beauprez doubled to left to put runners on second and third. With one out, catcher Austin King drew a free pass to load the bases and Abram Hill’s single plated Isaac to tie the game at 1-1.
Cloudland catcher Noah Arnett saved a run when he fielded Mull’s wild pitch and cut down Beauprez at the plate with a relay throw to Mull who applied the tag.
The ’Landers struck for a run in the second on a hit batter, a pair of stolen bases and a ground-ball RBI off the bat of second baseman Peyton Brock to give CMS a 2-1 lead.
The ’Landers extended to a 4-1 lead in the third inning as Arwood singled and Unaka starter Austin Taylor had consecutive walks to T.J. Davis and Arnett to load the bases.
A sacrifice fly by Preston Benfield scored one run and a single by left fielder Dakota Ashley plated another.
The Rangers got one of those runs back in the last of the third on an RBI double by Taylor to make it a 4-2 game. The fourth was scoreless on both sides, but CMS needed a heads up double play to get out of a bases-loaded situation.
Isaac Hill drilled a shot to Starnes (at short), who caught the liner and relayed home to catch the Unaka baserunner who had run with the crack of the bat.
“We had some baserunning errors out there,” said Junior Rangers head coach Tee Blevins. “We hit well and pitched pretty well, but we made errors in the field and on the bases that hurt us.”
When play resumed both teams seemed to feel the effects of the delay as Taylor struggled to find the strike zone, walking Davis to open the stanza.
Arnett ripped a run scoring single and Benfield reached on a dropped fly ball to right for a Unaka error, allowing a run to score and putting Benfield on second. A pair of walks by relief pitcher Beauprez loaded the bases and a ground out by Brock brought home another Lander runner.
An infield error by the Rangers allowed another run to score and the ’Landers completed the five-run uprising with an RBI single by Starnes to make it a 9-2 ballgame.
The Rangers did not roll over, however, tallying three runs in the last of the fifth. Beauprez led off and drilled a ball into the left-field gap that Ashley chased down and made a stellar running catch for the first out.
With two away, King singled and went to third as the ball eluded Ashley in left and Elijah Egoff singled him home after Abram Hill reached on a walk.
An error in the CMS infield loaded the bases and a single by Brent Parlier brought home two runs for Unaka to cut the lead to 9-5. Micah Hunt singled and Isaac Hill walked to load the sacks again, putting the tying run at the plate.
Mull worked hard and got Beauprez on strikes to end the threat and the game.
“We have two starters not here,” said Turbyfill. “Austin Whitehead and Cameron Stevens were both out so we had to do some moving around. I put Dakota in left and I think that without that catch he made we wouldn’t have won. It would have been extra bases and a momentum swing.
“I can’t say enough about Brinkley’s pitching and something else that helped us out was Noah Arnett stepping in and doing the catching. He did a nice job of stopping balls and didn’t let many get past him. All the way around I was pleased with the effort and we may have found some things by moving people around.”
Cloudland 112 05 — 9 7 3
Unaka 101 03 — 5 10 2
Mull and Arnett. Taylor, Beauprez (5), and King. W—Mull. L—Taylor. DP – CMS 1, UMS 1. LOB: CMS 6, UMS 7. 3B- Starnes. 2B – Beauprez, Taylor.