KINGSPORT -- Two of the most storied baseball coaches and programs in northeast Tennessee christened the new FieldTurf surface at J. Fred Johnson Stadium on the campus of Dobyns-Bennett High School on Thursday as Mike Ritz’s Dobyns-Bennett Indians defeated Charlie Baxter’s Unicoi County Blue Devils, 7-6.
The Indians have spent the season, thusfar, as nomads playing “home” games at Hunter Wright Stadium and at North High School. But on Thursday night the road warriors got to play the first game ever on the new turf at J. Fred Johnson Stadium and for the players, coaches, and fans alike, it was worth the wait.
For the four Indians seniors—Lane Taylor, Trevor McNew, Miles Chase and Garrett Rich, it was great to get back in their own ballpark, their stadium; but before they could play, many finishing touches had to be completed this afternoon for the game to take place.
Around 2 p.m., D-B groundskeeper Lee McDavid led the players, coaches, other students, parents and others in the installation of the left field wall. Home plate had to be secured, work was done on the pitcher's mound, the bases were put in place, chain-link fencing was installed around both bullpens, school employees swept the new dugouts, and as D-B assistant coach Ryan Wagner said, “everything is being [done] right to the last second. We got about an hours worth of time on the field.
The team took ground balls and hit batting practice in an attempt to learn how their home field was going to work. Coach Wagner continued, “the kids are absolutely excited.” That excitement continued throughout the night.
Unicoi County (20-4) won the first two games between the two teams this season, a 7-1 victory in the Coca-Cola Classic (played at Daniel Boone High School) and 6-4 in Erwin.
Dobyns-Bennett’s lead-off hitter, senior RF Lane Taylor, made history with a lead-off double for the first hit in the renovated J. Fred Johnson Stadium. He would also score the historical first run on a sacrifice fly off the bat of freshman C Nathan Millsap, giving the Indians a 1-0 after one inning.
The Blue Devils responded with two runs in the top of the second as P Seth Whitson led off with a walk. Courtesy runner Holden Tolley scored as SS Jake Ford hit the third straight single of the inning to even the score at 1-1. 1B Mason Howell scored on a sacrifice fly to centerfield by LF Bobby Smith and the Blue Devils took their only lead of the game at 2-1.
The Indians (9-14) answered in the bottom of the second with two runs of their own as freshman CF Jake Bellamy led off the inning with a solid single, was advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by junior 3B Dylan Harvey, and scored on an RBI double by senior LF Trevor McNew to tie the score at 2-2.
McNew came in to score on a two out bases loaded single by Millsap. The Indians had a 3-2 advantage after two innings of play.
Dobyns-Bennett added another run in the fourth inning as junior DH Gabe Overcast stroked a single to centerfield that was misplayed, allowing him to advance to second. Overcast went to third on Bellamy’s infield single off the leg of Blue Devil pitcher Whitson and then came in to score on an RBI groundout by McNew.
Unicoi County cut the deficit to 4-3 as they added a run in the fourth inning with a lead off walk by Ford, who stole second. After two strikeouts were recorded by D-B relief pitcher Matt Osborne (who came into the game in the third in relief of starter Joe Doran), 2B Andrew Lingerfelt slapped a single down the left field line to score Ford from second. Osborne was relieved by Kyle Brandon, the third pitcher of the night for the Indians.
The Tribe responded again with a run of their own in the bottom of the fourth as SS Jamie Crawford smashed a doubled to the fence in right center field, promptly stole third, (his fifth stolen base in the last two games) and then he came in to score on an errant throw down to second in an attempt to get Justin Trent, who had reached base on a base on balls, that went into center field allowing Crawford to dash across the plate giving D-B a 5-3 advantage.
The top of the fifth inning was the only time in the game where a run was scored in which an out was recorded by the first batter of the inning, as Blue Devil 3B Steve Kiernan hit a single to right center field, with one out, that was misplayed allowing him to get to second. Kiernan went to third on a single by Howell and scored on a single by Ford, which advanced Howell to third. Howell scored on a passed ball tying the score at 5-5 after five.
Once again, the D-B lead off hitter Taylor led off the inning and began the sixth being hit by a pitch. Taylor stole second, his sixth in seven attempts on the season; went to third on an error committed by the Blue Devils off the bat of Jamie Crawford. Crawford stole second, his 16th in 17 attempts this season. With one out and runners at second and third, Nathan Millsap drilled a two-RBI single to left field giving the Indians the 7-5 lead and Millsap his ninth RBI in the last 3 games (all victories for the Tribe).
Unicoi County did not go quietly, as Kiernan slapped a double down the left field line and scored on an error by the Indians off the bat of RF Logan Rice; but with two out and one on, LF Bobby Smith popped out to LF Trevor McNew ending the Blue Devils threat and the game with the Indians on top 7-6.
D-B has now won three in a row and four of their last five. It was not a conference win, but it was a confidence win for the Indians.
"This is a great way to get back into J. Fred Johnson Stadium,'' said assistant Josh Warner. "We are just so proud of the effort and the attitude of these guys. This was fun. You know, we have just been so close all year and to see them put it together – the pitchers throwing strikes, the defense doing what we knew all along it could, running the bases aggressively, and driving in runs when guys are in scoring position and doing it on this field in this stadium. We have done those things these past few games and it is just great to do it here in our stadium. What an amazing facility. I played in a lot of great places in college, but my best baseball memories are right here at J. Fred Johnson Stadium and now with this new surface, this is just really something special. This is a big win for these guys and we couldn’t be happier for them.”
D-B will play host to Cherokee Friday @ 6:00pm on their home field @ J. Fred Johnson Stadium.
Dobyns-Bennett 7, Unicoi County 6
Unicoi County 020 120 1 -- 6 9 4
Dobyns-Bennett 121 102 x -- 7 8 1
Whitson and Barnett…Doran, Osborne (3), Brandon (4), and Millsap. WP – Brandon (2-2) LP - Whitson