District 1-AA Baseball Tournament: Warriors use seventh-inning magic to fend off Johnson County

Published 11:34 pm Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Warriors were in a tough spot as they entered the bottom of the seventh during Thursday’s District 1-AA tournament play-in game against Johnson County at Cardinal Park.

Happy Valley, however, would use three big moments in the final frame to sneak past the Longhorns, 6-5, for a walk-off victory.

“It is always amazing to get a walk-off win, especially, in a conference tournament during a win-or-go-home game,” said Happy Valley head coach Brad Hill. “We had a lot of seniors step up in that part of the game. They did a great job of getting on base.”

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The Warriors entered their last at-bat with the Longhorns holding a 5-2 edge. Happy Valley’s Kevin Whitaker got the train rolling for the Warriors as he smacked a single to shortstop that would result in an error allowing both HV’s Luke Naylor and Will Hampton to speed home making it a one-run game, 5-4.

The tying run would come from Happy Valley’s Dylan Willis, who was in as a courtesy runner for teammate Bailey Conley. Willis found himself at third after a hard shot from HV’s Nolan Easlic resulted in another Johnson County error. During a wild pitch, Willis scooted towards home plate where he encountered Johnson County pitcher Jayden Joiner, who was there waiting to make the tag. However, Willis made a stutter step before diving in head first to avoid the avoid Joiner’s glove and score the tying run, 5-5. 

“He had me dead to rights,” said Willis about when he saw Joiner at home plate with the ball. “I was thinking, ‘Man, I done screwed up. I done goofed.’ I just knew I had to do something, and I got lucky with it.

“It was a huge relief,” Willis added about seeing the home umpire call him safe.

The Warriors final and biggest seventh-inning moment came as HV’s Eli Fleenor connected on a pitch to send the ball into shallow left field for an RBI-single to score teammate Dylan McKeehan for walk-off run. 

“I knew what was at stake,” said Fleenor after the game. ” I didn’t try to do anything too big. My teammates helped me stay calm. The coaches just told me to go up there and ‘do you.'”

Fleenor said that Thursday’s comeback win says a lot about the Warriors.

“I think it shows that we have grown over the years,” said Fleenor. “We have grown over this season. It’s just amazing.”

The Warriors took an early 2-0 lead as both Willis and McKeehan both scored on wild pitches. 

After cutting Happy Valley’s lead in half in the fourth, Johnson County came roaring back in the fifth as JC’s Josh Tierney had a big RBI-double which pancaked between RBI-singles from the ‘Horns Gavin Reece and Shane Greer to take a 4-2 edge. 

The Warriors finished the night with six hits with Easlic picking up two while Hampton, Whitaker, Conley, and Fleenor all recording one each.

Easlic picked up the win on the mound after coming in during the fifth inning. Easlic finished with four strikeouts against two hits and one run. Whitaker tossed for the first four innings.

The Warriors will be back at it Friday as they take on Elizabethton in the first round of the district tournament.