MILLIGAN COLLEGE — Rain fell throughout the game, and Elizabethton rained runs on Happy Valley.
The Cyclones exploded for a snowman in the third inning, and eventually worked their way to a 12-2 mercy-rule win over the Warriors in the winners' bracket final of the District 1-AA baseball tournament Sunday at Anglin Field.
Earning a region berth for the second time in three years, the Cyclones improved to 24-10 with their 18th win in their last 20 games.
Happy Valley (17-14) slipped into the losers' bracket final on Tuesday, and will take on Unicoi County or Sullivan East. The Blue Devils and Patriots play today at 6 p.m. East stayed alive with Sunday's 10-0 mercy-rule win over Johnson County.
Coming off a thrilling come-from-behind 9-8 win over Sullivan East in eight innings Saturday, the Cyclones carried the momentum into this game.
“You're always conscious about an emotional letdown after a big game like (Saturday),” said Cyclones' head coach Joe Nix. “But we did a good job of staying intense and staying focused. We did a good job of putting the bat on the ball and putting pressure on them.”
That was especially evident in the third inning when the Cyclones sent 13 men to plate and pushed across eight runs. The onslaught changed a 2-2 game into a blowout.
Thomas Miller sparked the outburst with a double, and Anthony Ward and Eric Carter followed with singles to make it 3-2. Austin Smith then laced a double to plate two runs, and the Cyclones led 5-2.
Walks and errors allowed the inning to mushroom into a snowman. At that point, it was 10-2 and the Cyclones were in complete command.
Carter — who had three hits and is crushing the baseball in the tournament (5 hits, 4 RBIs in two games) — said he and his teammates were ready to go.
“It was excitement more than anything,” said Carter. “The defense stepped up more than we did against East. We redeemed ourselves.”
After making seven errors and allowing seven unearned runs against East, the Cyclones didn't make an error against Happy Valley.
“Coming back and battling the elements and throwing a goose egg up there in the error column, we did a good job taking care of the ball,” said Nix.
Smith had a big game for the Cyclones. He went 3 for 4 with four RBIs, including an RBI single in the bottom of the fifth to end the game. He also went five innings on the mound, allowing six hits and two runs with three walks and one strikeout.
Smith improved to 7-1 on the season.
Early on it looked the Warriors were primed for another big game. They shutout Sullivan North in the opener before stunning Unicoi County in the second game.
Then against Elizabethton, Happy Valley got got on the board first. Justin Maupin led off the game with a double, and scored on Hunter Townsend's RBI single.
Elizabethton answered in the second inning, getting a leadoff double from Carter and an RBI single from Smith. Smith eventually scored on an error.
The Warriors forged a tie when Conner Campbell's deep fly ball to center field hit off the glove of Caleb Armstrong for an RBI double.
Maupin and Aaron McKee each had two hits for the Warriors.
Sullivan East 10
Johnson County 0
The Patriots struck for four runs in the first and two more in the second, and Brady McGrew was in control on the mound.
East bounced back from the tough loss to Elizabethton.
“We talked about it when we got back to school,” said East head coach Mike Breuninger. “I told them they could feel sorry for the rest of the night, but come back today and they better be ready. And they were.”
Will Ellis had a two-run single in the first inning for East.
In the fifth inning, East closed it out with an RBI single from Brock Burgess, and RBI double from Ryan Flick, and Jordan Jackson's two-run single.
McGrew worked five innings, allowing just three hits and striking out eight batters.
Breuninger said the Patriots have confidence against Unicoi.
“We played them three times, and we beat them at their place,” said Breuninger. “So we know we can beat them. We just have to go out and play good.”