Cyclones use late heroics to battle into 1-AA title game

Douglas Fritz • May 6, 2014 at 11:10 PM

KINGSPORT — If there's a dramatic finish, heartbreak is lurking in the shadows.

Elizabethton tasted a double dose of joy while Happy Valley suffered two spoonfuls of bad medicine as the Lady Cyclones' got a two-run homer from Danielle Loving in the bottom of the seventh to save their season, and then a two-run walk-off blast from Lindsey Cunningham in the eighth inning to put them in the regionals.

The 6-4 victory Tuesday at Sullivan North's field also pushed Elizabethton into today's District 1-AA softball championship round against Unicoi County. It was a season-ender for the Lady Warriors, who were three outs away from their first region berth in many moons.

For videos of the home runs, and player interviews, visit www.facebook.com/dfritzjcpress.

Beginning today at 5 p.m., Elizabethton (22-9) will need two wins over Unicoi County (36-9) to earn the district title. But as Lady Cyclones' head coach Leanne Click said, “We're just playing for fun. If we win two, it will be amazing. If we don't, oh well, we're still going on.”

First things first, the Lady Cyclones — who were bumped into the losers' bracket by Happy Valley — needed to beat Sullivan East Tuesday just to get another shot at the Lady Warriors. Elizabethton got a three-hit shutout from Cunningham, and beat the Patriots, 5-0.

However, the Warriors worked their way to a 4-1 lead through five innings — without the aid of an RBI. They scored three runs on throwing errors and the other on a wild pitch.

It was 4-2 heading to the bottom of the seventh, and freshman Abbi McKinney started things with a booming double off the center field fence. That brought Loving to the plate, who had not enjoyed nearly the kind of hitting season as she did in 2013.

Never mind all that. Boom! Dead center. And the game was tied.

“It paid off in the end,” said Loving. “It doesn't matter what you do in the season. It comes down to this. It was great to know I stepped up and helped the team, and didn't let them down.”

Said Click, “Honestly I was ecstatic for her. She struggled all year long, but she's such a good hitter.”

Happy Valley pitcher Kalee Johnson caught a popped bunt and turned it into a double play, helping end a threat and push the game to extra innings.

After the Lady Warriors failed to push a run across in the top of the eighth, Happy Valley head coach Mike Dorsey opted to walk big-time power threat Caley Hodge to open the bottom of the inning.

Cunningham stepped to the plate. Boom! Dead center. And the game was over.

“It made me the happiest person,” said Cunningham. “I felt like crying then I felt like screaming. I was just happy, and it was awesome.”

Cunningham and McKinney each finished with two hits for the Lady Cyclones.

For the Lady Warriors, Emily Whitaker had a giant day at the plate. She cranked two doubles off the fence, and finished 3 for 4.

Dorsey said Happy Valley (23-15) battled hard.

“(The Cyclones) won the game,” said Dorsey. “I didn't feel like we did anything to lose it. They got big hits at the appropriate times. We just didn't do enough, and that's the bottom line.”

Elizabethton 5, Sullivan East 0

A strong performance in the circle by Cunningham was backed by some timely hitting from Kennedy Richardson.

Cunningham pitched a three-hitter, striking out eight batters. She pitched out of a pair of tough spots, getting a strikeout with runners on second and third in the fourth inning. In the fifth with the bases loaded and one out, Cunningham got a strikeout and then a soft fly to left field.

“I was struggling with pitching, but I know how to come back,” said Cunningham. “And my defense did a good job, too.”

Elizabethton jumped out on Hodge's RBI single in the bottom of the first. The Lady Cyclones broke things open with three runs in the second inning.

One run scored on an error, and then Richardson had the big hit with a two-run two-out double to make it 4-0. Richardson later legged out an infield hit on a routine grounder to short to drive in her third run of the game.

Sarah Bradley also had two hits for the Lady Cyclones.

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