logo



Road Warriors: Happy Valley off to strong start despite field situation

Jeff Birchfield • Mar 16, 2019 at 7:59 PM

Happy Valley isn’t letting the situation with its home field affect its play on the baseball field.

The Warriors defeated the FCA Flames 14-3 Saturday at TVA Credit Union Ballpark to improve to 3-1 on the young season.

It has been documented how Happy Valley’s home field, Cannon-Gouge Park, was badly flooded recently, forcing the Warriors to find replacements for their home games. Unicoi County let the Warriors use their field for practice Friday night and they were on Science Hill’s home field for Saturday’s game.

While it has gotten Happy Valley out of a normal routine, there were no ill effects Saturday. Starting pitcher Bryce Carter pitched three strong innings, striking out five batters, while giving up no hits and no walks.

“It was nice to get a win, especially on a cold day like this,” said Carter in his first outing of the season. “I feel like we’ve done a great job facing adversity. It’s different when you have to travel somewhere to practice instead of just going down the hill, but coach (Brad) Hill has done a great job getting transportation and getting everything coordinated. Other than the Sullivan Central game to start the year, we’ve played great and it’s been good so far.”

The Warriors got off to another strong start Saturday.

Happy Valley scored one run in the first inning, but scored four, five and four over the next three innings to put an early end to the game.

Lead-off man Jacob Absher went 3-for-3 with two RBIs and three runs scored. Bart Wilson was also productive at the plate, going 2-for-2 with three RBIs. Dylan Willis knocked in two runs, while Dylan McKeehan and Hunter Smith each scored two runs.

Zach Workman, Absher and Wilson hit doubles.

“We’re just taking it one day at a time and playing hard every day,” said Wilson, who also pitched one inning before turning it over to closer Eli Reece. “This situation has been tough for the team, but we’re just doing what we can to get better every day. You want to win every game and that’s still the goal.'”

After falling behind 10-0, Alec Gentry, James Lee and John Lee scored runs for the Flames in the top of the fourth. An inning later after adding four more runs, Happy Valley ended the game with flair, turning a 6-4-3 triple play for the final outs.

“We played well today,” Hill said. “We knocked out 10 hits and were aggressive on the base pads. The triple play was a new one for me. I was part of one as a player, but we’ve had two this week and I’ve never seen one to end a game. It was a unique situation with runners on first and second. It was a good line out and then the guys were ‘headsy’ enough to make the exchanges on both ends.”

RIVAL SCHOOLS

So far in the 2019 season, the Warriors have used the aforementioned parks as well as Elizabethton’s Joe O’Brien Field and Milligan College’s Anglin Field for practices. Hill said nearly every team in the area has reached out and offered assistance. In the cases of Unicoi County and Elizabethton, those are Happy Valley’s fiercest rivals.

“The sharing of facilities have been outstanding,” Hill said. “We’ve used Milligan, Unicoi, the Cardinals and Twins fields because of the proximity and the relationship with the coaches. It’s great to be in an area where people can put aside the rivalries and the competition for the betterment of the kids.”

The generosity has made an impact on the players. They talked of being grateful to both the Blue Devils and Cyclones, and others like the Hilltoppers, for their help.

“It’s great what they’re doing and we really appreciate it,” Carter said. “It’s great to have a community which comes and rallies around you. Those schools have done a great job.”

Wilson added: “They may be rivals, but at the end of the day, it’s just a game that we all love. And I love playing here (at TVA Credit Union Ballpark). It may not be Cannon-Gouge Park, but it’s a great place to play.”

SENIOR LEADERSHIP

With seven seniors on the current roster — Michael Harrah, Caden Ward, Andrew Holt, Reece, Wilson, McKeehan and Carter — this team has shown maturity and dedication going to the different fields and other locations like Upper Deck and RBI Tri-Cities for practice.

While there have been challenges of wanting to get in more defensive work, the coaches and players have kept a positive attitude.

“We feel like we have to make the best of the situation,” Carter said. “It’s the hand we’ve been dealt and it’s what you have to do, so you just make the best out of what you can.”

While it’s sad to see the hard work that so many put into the Warriors’ home field washed away, Wilson feels the situation has made the team stronger, calling it a close family bond. Hill isn’t surprised to see his veteran players step up and lead the team.

“These seven seniors have taken the underclassmen under their wings,” Hill said. “The adversity will make us tougher in the end and I think we will be better for it at the end of the season. Obviously, we wish we weren’t in this situation, but as we’re dealing with it, they’re handling it well.”

Johnson City Press Videos