By Rick Sheek
The Lady Bulldogs were celebrating on Thursday evening. They live to play another day.
Hampton outlasted Cloudland 12-8 in opening-round action of the Little Watauga Conference softball tournament at Cannon-Gouge Park. The Bulldogs meet top seed Happy Valley at 5 this afternoon.
“We didn’t play our best today, but we played good enough to get by,” Hampton coach Joy Gardner said. “We’re going to have to play a whole lot better the next round to have a chance, but we are improving.”
All three of the Bulldogs’ wins this spring came over the winless Highlanders.
“We have improved so much,” Cloudland coach Laura Jaynes said. “We had some coaching changes. I’ve never coached in my life.
“I stepped up to the plate and tried it, and the girls really responded to me well. I think that that made a big difference in the morale of the team.”
Donna Ray Taylor’s inside-the-park home run put the Highlanders up in the first inning. Hampton tied it when a wild pitch plated a run.
Cloudland built a 5-1 advantage in the third. Three runners crossed on errors and Peyton Johnson delivered a run-scoring single.
The Bulldogs then cut loose for six runs to lead 7-5 in the bottom half. Katie Ellison led off with a triple.
Madison Newmann followed with a run-scoring single, Shyanne Tuelle plated a score, Kourtney Tolley ripped a run-scoring single and Ellison completed the flurry with a two-run double.
Cheyenne Strickland’s two-run single in the fourth knotted the affair at 7-all.
“They’re happy,” Jaynes said. “They’re eager. They want to practice all summer.
“They want to come out next year and show them who is boss. I’m very, very proud that they rose to the occasion.”
Dawn Godsey tagged a run-scoring single. An error plated two runners and Hampton was back in charge 10-7.
In the fifth, Patricia Singleton’s RBI cut the deficit to 10- 8.
Godsey’s inside-the-park, two-run homer in the sixth completed the onslaught.
“Our eighth graders have really stepped up, and that makes a difference,” Gardner said. “When you have some leadership and you have someone stand up and set an example for the younger kids.”
Cloudland’s Brienna King was roughed up for 14 hits and allowed eight earned runs. She struck out one and walked two.
“We’ve really grown as a team,” Jaynes said. “We’ve really improved, dramatically.”
Tera Clark was touched for four hits and yielded three earned runs. She fanned one and walked seven.
Godsey batted 4 for 4. Ellison was 2 for 3, while Katelynn McNutt went 2 for 4.
Hampton turned five double plays.
“Anybody can be beaten on any night,” Gardner said.
The Lady Longhorns (13-8) avenged a beating absorbed a few weeks ago to the Rangers.
“Today we made some moves, changed some people around, gave some people some different roles and they really have come through the last couple of weeks since we played them,” Johnson County coach Greg Reece said. “I love playing Unaka. They’re good sports about everything, good kids, good coaches and good fans.”
Unaka (11-7) grabbed the early lead on Chelsea Grubb’s RBI in the first inning. The Longhorns moved ahead 2-1 in the second on Bailey Spencer’s two-run single.
Tasha Walsh and Jayme Jennings unleashed run-scoring singles in the third to make it 4-1. Kelsey Duperry’s two-run double in the fourth make it 6-1.
In the fifth, Unaka’s Sarah Kyte blasted a double to the center field fence. She was stranded.
Courtney Wilson belted a run-scoring triple in the fifth, and Spencer’s RBI pushed the rout to 8-1. The Longhorns extended their cushion to 10-1 in the seventh following Amanda Potter’s RBI and Wilson’s run-scoring double.
Madison Ensor’s run-scoring single in the bottom half completed Unaka’s offensive output.
“We just didn’t come to play tonight,” Unaka coach James Pearson said. “They’ve got a team with a lot of eighth graders, and we’re playing a lot of sixth graders. You could say that we were kind of shell-shocked when they scored a few runs, and we just couldn’t recover from it. We couldn’t hit the ball at all.”
The Rangers’ Ashley Doss scattered 11 hits and yielded nine earned runs. She fanned four and walked three.
Johnson County’s Brianna Snyder allowed four hits and an earned run. She struck out eight and walked one.
“This was sweet tonight,” Reece said. “For these girls to do what they’ve done, and nobody expected them to do much of anything. These girls have gotten better and better.
“That’s all I can say about it. It’s their win.”
Spencer batted 3 for 4, with two stolen bases, and reached safely in all four at-bats. Jennings went 2 for 2 with two steals, also reaching in each plate appearance.
Wilson and Duperry were each 2 for 4. The Longhorns await the Hampton-Happy Valley winner next Tuesday.
“The girls came through,” Reece said. “Bailey Spencer came through. Bri pitched really, really good for us.
“Jayme had a fantastic game at shortstop. Even the role players that came in did their job.”