By Matt Myers
For five solid innings, it was an utterly defensive contest. Then the Johnson County Lady Jr. Longhorns (5-3) (2-0) went yard to capture their second Little Watauga Valley Conference victory of the year, beating Unaka 4-2.
The win not only kept the Lady ’Horns (2-0, 5-3) unbeaten and tied for first with Happy Valley in league play, it stood as a testament to their resiliency in the face of tough opposition. JC coach Greg Reece, a skipper that can only be described as a first-class sportsman, spoke confidently about his team going forward after the win.
“You know I think we gained some confidence tonight, it is always great to come here to Ronnie Hicks Field and play Unaka,” said Reece. “We know that this community is filled with very competitive athletes in this sport and we made sure our girls fully respected their opponent. I was really proud of Brianna, and the way she sparked our offense with her first career out of the park homer late, we need to remain consistent on defense and find that offensive surge in every game. I was happy with the way our girls executed our philosophy tonight.”
When asked about the season going forward, Reece stressed that his team was going to get back to work quickly,
“We want our girls to move forward quickly and maintain the consistency they had today,” he said. “Tomorrow, we go to Lamar and we are back home for Cloudland on Monday. We know what our strengths are; now it is just a matter of being prepared to play as many games as we do.”
Lady Jr. Longhorn pitcher and slugger Brianna Snyder provided the game’s lone fireworks by rocking a high pitch over the left-field fence and halfway to the gridiron at Goddard Field in the top of the sixth. The homer finally counteracted an Ashley Doss sacrifice fly that sent Madison Ensor in to tie the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the third inning.
Until that point, the game was a fielder’s dream with players taking advantage on both sides. Shortstop Jayme Jennings emerged as the defensive leader in the field for the Lady Jr. Longhorns. The youngster’s beautiful catch of a line drive between short and third by Doss in the first inning helped strand runners at both corners. The play would prove to have lasting repercussions as it halted one of the Lady Jr. Rangers’ very few chances to overcome the two run margin.
Hannah Tipton and Ensor emerged as leaders in the field for the Lady Jr. Rangers (1-2, 3-4). Tipton garnered six strikeouts off the mound, and Ensor effectively shut down the JC offense in the top of the fifth with two rockets from her shortstop position, putting out two Lady ‘Horn defenders at first. The play allowed the game to remain tied through a five, and served as an example of the Jr. Lady Rangers’ “no quit” attitude.
Afterwards Unaka skipper James Pearson was proud of his teams efforts, despite the lack of production on offense.
“We stuck with our mistakes too long tonight, and although we played hard, that was the deciding factor,” he said. “I am proud of these girls and their effort though. We will need them to remain consistent as we go into next week. The Cloudland game at home is a must win for us, and I think if we can just get back to playing how we know we can play we have a great shot. There is not lack of effort of give-up in this team.”
The Lady Jr. Longhorns will travel to Lamar next, while the Lady Jr. Rangers will be at home against Cloudland.
The UMS Lady Jr. Rangers lit up the scoreboard in the bottom of the second to capture a 16-8 win. Haley Fair was the highlight maker for Unaka as her double helped pushed the lead to an insurmountable 15-2.
The game ran only two innings, although the Lady Jr. ’Horns did rally to cut the game to 16-8. The 13-run lead in the second allowed the Lady Jr. ’Horns one at-bat to make up the difference.