BY JOE BYRD
ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR
Rust can weaken the strongest metals, and it seems to affect pretty good high school baseball teams, too.
Having not played a competitive game in more than a week and for only the third time this month, Greeneville was rusty for Tuesday night's Region 1-AA semifinal showdown against visiting Johnson County, and it cost the Devils.
The Longhorns upset Greeneville 5-1, spoiling what the Devils felt like might have been their year to claim a region title.
"I'm not going to make any excuses, but it did hurt us not getting to play a lot. I was afraid of being rusty. I was just hoping we could battle through it," said Greeneville coach Jeremy Shepherd. "Johnson County came out to be the better team tonight, and that's just the way it is."
The Devils didn't play badly against Johnson County. They just weren't as game sharp as they needed to be against a good team.
Greeneville scored its lone run in the bottom of the first inning. Brennan Hollowell led off with a base hit, stole second and stole third. The Longhorns threw the ball away trying to get him at third, allowing the senior to score and give the Devils a 1-0 lead.
They never scored again.
Johnson County took the lead with two runs in the top of the second when a Greeneville error allowed a run to score and put a runner on base before Ryan Smith hit a RBI single to right that made it 2-1.
The Devils were still in it until the fifth when Johnson County scored three runs with two away. Daniel Helm drove in one run with a base hit, and then Greeneville misjudged a ball that turned into a two-run double for Harley Reece that put the Longhorns in command 5-1.
After the first inning run, Greeneville's only other real chance to score came in the third on what would have tied the game at two runs apiece, but Johnson County killed it with a catch in left field by Dusty Stout and a relay throw to the catcher for a tag at the plate to end the inning on a 7-6-2 double play.
Greeneville's defense limited the Longhorns to six hits. The Devils sat Johnson County down 1-2-3 in three innings and allowed a single runner to first in two others. But it was the two innings that Johnson County scored all of its runs that made the difference.
Mike Lane had a two-out double for the Devils in the fourth and was left stranded. Hollowell, Zack Finchum, Tyler King, D.J. Ball and Jake Treadway all had singles.
Despite the disappointment of Tuesday night's region semifinal loss, the Devils are still proud of a solid season. Greeneville finishes the year 21-8 overall, going undefeated in the Blue Ridge Athletic Conference to win both the regular season and district crowns.
"I am so proud of these guys I can't stand it," Shepherd said. "I hate it ended like this. I wouldn't change any of it. They battled their butts off for us all year long. When it came down to crunch time here, we struggled a little bit."
JC AB R H GHS AB R H
H'mons,ss 4 1 1 H'lowell,3b 2 1 1
Stout,lf 4 0 1 Finchum,ss 3 0 1
Helm,1b 3 1 1 Th'rntn,1b 3 0 0
Reece,dh 3 0 1 G.Rambo,p 3 0 0
Woods,rf 0 0 0 Lane,rf 3 0 1
Mahala,p 3 1 0 King,dh 3 0 1
Stout,3b 3 1 0 Tillery,cf 0 0 0
Smith,c 3 0 1 L.Rambo,c 3 0 0
H'gkiss,2b 2 1 1 Ball,2b 2 0 1
Henson,cf 3 0 0 Tr'dway,lf 3 0 1
TOTALS 28 5 6 TOTALS 25 1 6
2b hits: JC - Reece. GHS - Lane. WP: Mahala. LP: Rambo.
Score by innings:
Johnson County 020 030 0 -- 5 6
Greeneville 100 000 0 -- 1 6