By Tim Chambers
The 2012 high school baseball and softball season has had its up and downs for Carter County teams this season.
Elizabethton’s Lady Cyclones are the only team thus far that has punched a ticket into the regional. They did so by defeating Happy Valley 11-1 Wednesday night in the losers’ bracket final of the District 1-AA softball tournament.
The ’Betsy boys appeared to be a shoo-in after winning the league title outright for the first time since 1979, but fell to a red-hot Johnson County squad 3-1 on Sunday.
They found a way to bounce back and defeat Sullivan East 8-7 on Tuesday, but lost to another hot team, Unicoi County, 7-2 on the following night.
Unaka could be on the brink of not making the regional tournament in baseball and softball for the first time in nearly two decades. Both teams face elimination games today.
A rubber match with University High will decide who plays North Greene for the championship on the baseball side.
Both regular-season baseball games between the Rangers and Junior Bucs were decided by one run, with each winning at home. The Junior Bucs will probably pitch Hunter Tester who got an extra day’s rest because of the rain. Unaka will counter with either Isaac Ray or Josh Rasnick.
The Lady Rangers must defeat Hampton and then North Greene or UH at home to stamp its ticket for an automatic berth.
The Lady Warriors bowed out of the district tournament at 19- 18, just one game shy of making the regional. Head coach Mike Dorsey did an exceptional coaching job with a squad filled with underclassmen.
They’ll strengthen their program with several players off a 15-1 junior high squad next season that includes their star pitcher Kalee Johnson, who no-hit Johnson County in the championship game on Wednesday. The 5-11 two-sport athlete will definitely make her presence felt on the hardwood as well.
Cloudland softball shined under second-year head head coach Kenneth Chambers, going 9-13. Included were wins over Happy Valley, South Greene, Johnson County and Unaka. It’s possible that starting catcher Hope Baker gets an opportunity to play at the next level — possibly Mars Hill College. She would be the first Lady Highlander to play at that level on the diamond.
Hampton’s Lady Bulldogs showed marked improvement this season under new coach Bill Doss, and still have a chance against Unaka today.
Johnson County baseball
Congratulations to head Coach Pete Pavusek and his assistant coach Nick Perkins for getting the Longhorns into the regional for the first time since 1990.
The team caught fire at the right time after knocking off Sullivan North with a two-run double in their last at-bat – down by one run. Their two wins over Elizabethton and Unicoi County were just icing on the cake.
JCHS plays Unicoi today at 6 p.m. for the championship. If the Blue Devils win another game, will be played at the same time on Friday at Milligan College.
Last week I reported that Elizabethton won the conference title outright for the first time since 1976 when it should have been the 1979 squad.
Coach Hack Hyder’s team knocked off Science Hill 6-4 at Cardinal Park to prevent the Hilltoppers from tying for the league title. Steve Hyder’s solo home run broke a 1-1 tie and the Cyclones led the rest of the way.
Leading the charge were Austin Taylor (double, HR), Hyder, Phil Pierce (triple) and Troy Rigney with two hits apiece. Jeff Anderson scored two runs and Pierce improved to 8-0 with a five-hitter.
’Betsy finished with a league mark of 11-1. The ’Toppers ended up 9-3.
The roster consisted of Scott Hood, Randy Richardson, Matt Loving, Jeff Jeffers, Danny Davis, James Jones, Mark Weddle, Steve Smith, Troy Rigney, Mike Hodge, Lance Ritchie, Terry Meredith, Steve Hyder, Jeff Pierce, Scott Campbell, Billy Long, Johnny Fair, Jeff Anderson, Sid Cox, Bo Taylor, Bucky Peters, John Hutchins, Monty Lowe, Phil Pierce, Richard Davenport, Danny Wilson and Kenneth Garland.
Cloudland just completed nine days of spring practice under recently named head coach Brock Pittman, and the news has been favorable around the community.
The Highlanders should be much improved over last year’s 1-9 mark.
Fans will need to buy a program because the lineup could have several changes from last year.
Jeffrey Rhinehart will be under center after starting the last two years at West Greene. This will allow the ’Landers to keep senior speedster Taylor Whitehead in his more comfortable role as a tailback.
The addition of Rhinehart will allow the coaches to explore with several options. Word is they’ll run from the spread, so they’ll need a core of good receivers.
One of those will probably be sophomore Zac Benfield, who started behind center as a freshman last season. Two other players to watch for will be incoming freshmen Austin Whitehead and Colby Birchfield. The pair dominated junior high play and each possesses the athleticism needed to play at the varsity level. The trio has great speed and hands, which should play into Rhinehart’s liking.
Mason Carnett (6-2, 210, Jr.) will move from fullback slot into the offensive line as a guard. This should bolster a line led by junior standout Asley Haynes. The addition of transfer running back Michael Arnett from Avery County will also strengthen what appears to be an already solid backfield. This might allow them to move Punky Rhinehart from the backfield into the line as well.
The Highlanders are hoping that Pittman can return them to their glory years when they made deep runs into the playoffs.
He brings an impressive resume to Roan Mountain, yet the community is hungry for results. This could be the start of something good for the Highlanders.
For Pittman, this could mean being a chip off the old “Brock” among the Cloudland faithful.
Former Cyclone graduates from King
Ex-Elizabethton football and baseball standout Ryan Kennedy graduated from King College last Saturday. He completed his master’s degree in business by compiling an overall GPA of 3.78. Kennedy started for two seasons as King’s second baseman. His brother, Andrew, attends Southwest Community College in Virginia. He was catcher for the Cyclones before moving to Virginia.
Tim Chambers is a sportswriter for the Elizabethton Star and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org