Friday, August 31, 2007

Twins at Danville - Appy League Series - Game Two Blog

Welcome to my blog of the second game of the Appalachian League Championship Series between the Elizabethton Twins and the Danville Braves at the Dan Daniel Memorial Park in Danville, Virginia.

The Twins lead the series 1-0 with an opportunity to take the title tonight.


LHP Jeff Locke on the mound for Danville.

Twins: Estarlin De Los Santos walks, Rene Tosoni strikes out, Deibinson Romero grounds into a double play.

RHP Michael McCardell on the mound for Elizabethton.

Braves: Cole Miles grounds out, Benji Johnson strikes out, Cody Johnson walks, Josh Morris flies out to left.

Score: 0-0


Twins: Rene Leveret strikes out, Ozzie Lewis strikes out, Greg Yersich walks, Wesley Connor pops out to center.

Braves: Adam Coe strkes out, Steve Shults singles to left, Chad Lundahl delivers a sacrificed bunt, C.J. Lee sends a hard hit ball to Mark Dolenc in center.

Score: 0-0


Twins: Mark Dolenc strikes out, Eric Santiago reaches on an error and is caught stealing at second, Estarlin De Los Santos strikes out but reaches on a wild pitch, Rene Tosoni strikes out. Through three, Locke has struck out six Twins batters.

Braves: Eliazar Carmona leads off with a single to center, Miles strikes out, B. Johnson flies out to left, C. Johnson doubles to put two runners in scoring position for the Braves.

Jim Shellenback walks out to the mound to speak with McCardell. Morris strikes out on Danville's best scoring opportunity thus far in the series.

Score: 0-0


Twins: Romero leads off with a double, Leveret singles to move Romero to third. Now the Player of the Year, who is struggling, gets an opportunity. Lewis delivers a sacrificed fly to right, scoring Romero. 1-0 Elizabethton.

Yersich and Connor follow with singles to load the bases for Mark Dolenc. Danvlle pitching coach Jim Czajkowski makes a visit to the mound. Dolenc bounces one to third, Leveret is thrown out at the plate

Locke walks Santiago, Yersich crosses the plate and Braves manager Paul Runge pulls the plug on the All-Star (Locke) for Edgar Osuna. Connor crosses the plate as De Los Santos walks. 3-0 Elizabethton.

Last night's hero, Tosoni, strikes out for the third time on the night to get Danville out of the inning. The game is Elizabethton's to lose.

Braves: Coe doubles when three Twins stand around and let a pop drop just inside of the line in right field. Shults strikes out, Lundahl grounds out to third, Lee grounds one to Leveret at first.

Score: 3-0 Twins


Twins: Romero flies out to right, Leveret strikes out, Lewis grounds out.

Braves: Carmona leads off with a double to right with the top of Danville's order behind him. Miles pops up to second. B. Johnson strikes out. Appy League home run king Cody Johnson strikes out.

Score: 3-0 Twins


Twins: Greg Yersich opens with a single. With two outs on the board (Connor, Dolenc), Santiago singles to right and an errant throw from right field clears the plate for Yersich. 4-0 Elizabethton. De Los Santos grounds out to end the stanza.

Braves: Morris grounds out, Coe pops out to center, Shults is struck by a pitch, Lundahl grounds out.

Score: 4-0 Twins


Twins: Tosoni walks, Romero singles to left, Leveret grounds into a 6-4-3 double play. A balk is called on Osuna with Lewis at the plate, scoring Tosoni. 5-0 Elizabethton. Lewis lines out. That may have done it for Danville.

Spencer Steedley pitching for Twins.

Braves: Lee leads off with a double, Carmona strikes out on a wild pitch and is thrown out at first. A wild throw from Leveret towards third allows Lee to sprint towards home. Romero hits Yersich with a throw and Yersich tags Lee, but he is safe. Twins manager Ray Smith disputes the call, but the run stands.

When the dust settles, Miles strikes out and B. Johnson grounds out to second.

Score: 5-1 Twins


Twins: Yersich strikes out, Connor singles to center, Dolenc singles to right. Paul Runge pulls the plug on Osuna for southpaw Tommy Palica, whose father Wayne played for the E-Twins in 1979 and 1980.

Santiago pops out to second, De Los Santos strikes out.

If the Braves are going to do make their charge they have to do it this frame.

Braves: Steedley plucks C. Johnson, Morris grounds into a 6-4-3 double play. Coe grounds out and Elizabethton is one inning away from their fourth Appy League crown in eight years.

Score: 5-1 Twins

Barring a miracle on Danville's behalf, the Twins win. I have to prepare for postgame activities so I will end my running log at this time. Be sure to pick up Sunday's Star for the full wrap on the Appy League series.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Welcome Star Readers, Twins, High School & Bristol Thoughts

Welcome Elizabethton Star readers to my blog. I plan on doing some things you won't find in the newspaper here including thoughts on our high school sports scene, live blogs on local events (when I have wireless availability) and random notes about subjects that interest me.

Also if anybody has any questions about local sports or would like my opnion on anything, please shoot me a comment either here or via e-mail at

I had originally planned on doing a live blog for the Sharpie 500 race on Saturday at Bristol, but was unable to do so due to our midnight deadline.

Here's a look at some of the big stories in our coverage area this week.


The Elizabethton Twins have been on a roll since the beginning of the 2007 Appalachian League season. With the regular tilt winding down, the team has all attention focused on East Division Champion Danville, whom they will meet when the Appy League Championship Series begins at Joe O'Brien Field on Thursday.

This is a big series, not only for the Twins, but for Danville. The two squads have won the last two Appy League titles. Elizabethton topped Danville in a three-game series on the road in 2005. Last year, Danville topped Elizabethton in a postponed series at Riverside Stadium for the crown.

Thursday begins the rubber series between the Twins and Braves, who have had the most success in the League this decade. Danville's managed by Paul Runge, a former Atlanta standout, and has sent several of its players into the parent club.

Elizabethton has the winningest short-season manager in league history in Ray Smith, himself a former Minnesota catcher. The Twins have also had their share of greats take the big league diamond including Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Joe Mauer and others.

Judging the roster of both Danville and Elizabethton, there are several players who have the potential to reach the highest level of professional baseball.

Elizabethton placed an Appy League record seven players on the All-Star team, while Danville contributed four. Each team has several players who weren't named to the All-Star squads who are just as capable of shining on any given night. That's what makes this series so intriguing this year.

This series reminds me of 2005, when both teams were loaded with talent. Elizabethton saw three of its top pitchers that season (Kevin Slowey, Matt Garza, Glen Perkins) get promoted early on. Despite losing three guys who have already seen action in a Minnesota uniform within their first three years in professional baseball, Elizabethton overcame a powerful, talented Braves team, one of the top offensive squads in league history, in three games.

I will have a full preview of Thursday's series in that day's edition of the Star.

There will be a community tailgate taking place beginning at 5 p.m. in the parking lot at Joe O'Brien Field for those interested in coming to the ballpark early and enjoying the atmosphere.


In between race coverage last weekend, I covered the Elizabethton-Happy Valley game on Friday.

I came away impressed with both teams, who underwent head coaching changes during the summer months. Shawn Witten and his staff have done a tremendous job at Elizabethton. The same can be said about Scotty Verran with his young team at Happy Valley.

I feel the future is bright in both programs. Neither may win a conference title this year, or next year for that matter. But the teams are on the right track.

Elizabethton faces a tough challenge at Science Hill this week, while the Warriors host rival Unicoi County. EHS and HV will enter their games as the underdog, but it wouldn't surprise me to see each team prevail.

One team receiving a lot of publicity this past weekend was Hampton, who overwhelmed Johnson County. The game was no surprise to me. I felt like the Bulldogs were going to be heavy favorites even though the Longhorns had the best athlete on the field (Christian Prudhomme).

Hampton has perhaps the most depth in the backfield of any team in Class 1-A this year. If the Bulldogs are going to get to Murfreesboro and challenge for a State Championship, this is their best shot by far. They'll face a stern test at Oneida this week.

Unaka opened their season with a win over Chuckey-Doak last Thursday. It's a good start for the Rangers, who were led by a monsterous defensive effort from perennial Mr. Football candidate Jacob Estep. Estep totaled over 20 tackles in the game, many for loss. I'm anxious to see how he does against Union County this week.

Cloudland lost their first meeting with Avery County, NC in 20 years on Friday, debuting their new spread offensive scheme. The Highlanders looked good at times, and seemed confused at others. They should get their first win of the season Thursday against West Greene, but nothing is a given in high school football these days.


I went to the Sharpie 500 Saturday night expecting a classic Bristol race. I left severely disappointed.

I'm not saying the racing was bad — it wasn't. There was great side-by-side racing on the surface, with drivers getting three wide at times on the track. It just wasn't classic Bristol.

There wasn't any drama. The beatin' and bangin' many expected wasn't there. There wasn't a great race for the win.

Carl Edwards wasn't challenged after taking the reigns from Kasey Kahne, who himself had the track all to himself when he was atop the field during the early stages of the event.

Sometimes I think a great Busch race can build up a Nextel Cup race so much that people's expectations become so high, they can't enjoy what they see. I think that was the case for some this week. Friday night's Food City 250 was one of those classic Bristol races.

Even Wednesday's Pro Cup and Truck series races provided the drama that fans crave when they arrive at Bristol.

I think the track did a great job on its new surface. It provided some of the best racing I've seen in a long time — until Saturday night.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Thunder Valley Finals

It's time for the finals here at Bristol.


Jeg Coughlin barely ran Kenny Koretsky down by three hundreths of a second. Koretsky led until the final stretch, he was three hundredths better off the line. Great race.


John Force (4.993s) beat Cruz Pedregon (5.024s) in a great race to win his first of the year!


Brandon Bernstein blasts past Bob Vandergriff Jr., who struggled off the start. Bernstein improves to second in the points.

Thank you for following along with my live blog.

Thunder Valley Semis

Semifinals getting ready to begin here in Bristol. By the way, a great crowd on hand all weekend here at Thunder Valley. Both Friday and Saturday were announced as sellouts. Given the size of the crowd today, I would estimate that it's a great possibility this afternoon as well.

The staff at the Dragway have done a great job all weekend. And I can't say enough as a writer about the job done by the Bristol Media Relations staff and also the Media Relations reps of the drivers and the NHRA drivers themselves, who are perhaps some of the best guys I've dealt with.

The NHRA is a good thing. It's something I wish we had twice a year at Bristol. The cancellation of the event in May due to the track's surface has been a blessing in disguise as this event has just been phenominal. I would love to see this event remain in July permanently.

Brandon Bernstein has had some horrible luck with the handling of his car. Somehow, he's still moving on. Both Bernstein and Larry Dixon smoked their tires and went sideways down the quarter-mile. Bernstein smoked his way to the line and moved to the finals.

"It wasn't pretty. But sometimes you've got to get those lucky breaks. We've had two of them today," Bernstein said.

Bob Vandergriff keeps winning. This time, Vandergriff upset Top Fuel points leader Rod Fuller en route to the finals.


Cruz Pedregon beat Jim Head to reach the semis.

John Force made his first final round of the year with a 4.926 to 5.150 win over Tim Wilkerson.

"If feels good because I've really rode my guys hard," Force said. "Everybody's jumped in here to make this hot rod good. I asked for all of them to forgive me for being a jerk. I think Eric slapped me upside the head this morning and said be who you used to be."


Jeg Coughlin topped Justin Humphreys to move on.

Kenny Koretsky scored his third upset of the day, with a .006 from the starting line, beating Dave Connolly to meet Coughlin.

Pro Stock and More

The Captain of Chaos shocked Thunder Valley.

With a 0.018 reaction time, Kenny Koretsky upset Pro Stock's dynamo Greg Anderson in a great race down the Bristol quarter-mile during the first round of Pro Stock eliminations.

Anderson's teammate Jason Line red-lighted and also missed the final eight.

"We weren't loose enough behind the wheel," Anderson said. "Jason and I both screwed up. It's got to be a 100 percent team effort. I don't care how good your car is, you can't give up six hundredths of a second. It hurts either way. It hurts bad as a driver. The good news is we've got three or four days to work it out."

Greeneville's Allen Johnson won his first round race and will meet Dave Connolly.

"Now we've just got to keep this up. We're up against the only person we'd lose the lane choice to that moved on," Johnson said. "We've got to go up there and see what we've got."

Johnson has now reached the second round in eight of his last ten events.

"That's our goal to be consistent and get to the second round," he said.

Top Fuel Round Two

Bob Vandergraff Jr. continued his stellar day from the 16th qualifying spot with a win over J.R. Todd.

Rod Fuller topped Doug Kallitta, Larry Dixon beat Dave Grubnic.

In the wildest race of the day, Brandon Bernstein topped Cory McClenathan in a run were both drivers nearly lost control of their dragsters. Bernstein got loose first, followed by McClenathan. Bernstein had just enough to pull it out and advance to the semifinals.

"It kept picking the front end up everytime I put my foot on the throttle," Bernstein said. "They're hard to drive when they're not on the ground."

Funny Car Round two

Independent Tim Wilkerson topped Gary Scelzi, who struck his tires, to keep his solid weekend going.

Cruz Pedregon topped Ron Capps, who struck his tires as well.

Mike Ashley was seven hundredths better off the starting line against John Force, but Force continued his good weekend with a win by two hundreths of a second. Force will have an opportunity to reach his first final round of the year.

"It was just another run. It's big anytime I can get to the semis, it's like winning Indy. We're excited. We'll see what happens when we get back to form," Force said.

Jim Head and Jack Beckman both went wild, but Head settled down first and advanced to face Pedregon in the semis.

Pro Stock Round Two

Kenny Koretsky topped Larry Morgan to reach the semis on the first race of the round.

Jason Humphreys reached the semis thanks to two red lights by his opponents, this time from Kurt Johnson who suffered the same fate as his father Warren, who did it in the first round.

Jeg Coughlin, the top qualifier, reached the semis with a win over Jim Yates.

Allen Johnson had a good start but came up short against David Connolly, who pulled away down the stretch.

Thunder Valley Nationals

Welcome to my running blog of the NHRA POWERade Series O'Reilly Thunder Valley Nationals.

The Top Fuel eliminations have just now begun with J.R. Todd topping Hillary Will to begin the day.

Larry Dixon topped Melanie Troxel, and the first upset of the day saw Cory McClenathan top Doug Herbert.

Through the first three runs, the three victors have all posted better marks than they did in qualifying.

Doug Kalitta bucked the early trend with a 4.63 mark, just lower than his 4.611 mark in qualifying, with a win over Morgan Lucas.

David Grubnic, however, posted a better mark than his qualifying run with a win over number two qualifyer Whit Bazemore, who had some problems off the start.

The biggest upset of the day came early as Bob Vandergriff Jr. beat top qualifyer Tony Schumacher from the 16th spot.

No number one qualifiers have went on to win an event in Top Fuel this season — that streak continues today.

In a great race, third seeded Brandon Bernstein topped Brady Kalivoda with a 4.5 to a 4.6.

Hot Rod Fuller topped Clay Millican to set the quarterfinal round later today.

"I knew when I hit that pedal, it was going to do it," Bernstein said.

Funny Car

In the first round of eliminations:

Seventh seeded Jim Head (4.92) beat Robert Hight (4.913).

Top qualifier Tim Wilkerson (4.935) beat Del Worsham (4.960).

Number three Cruz Pedregon (4.918) topped Jerry Toliver (4.988).

Fourth seeded Mike Ashley (4.920) beat Tony Bartone (5.013).

Second qualifier Jack Beckman (4.891) beat Gary Densham (5.067).

Fifth qualifier John Force (4.864) beat Scott Kalitta (5.984).

Sixth qualifier Ron Capps (4.937) beat Tommy Johnson Jr. (4.987).

In the lone upset of the round, ninth qualifier Gary Scelzi (4.942) topped eighth qualifier Tony Pedregon (5.215).

I'll be back later with updates from Pro Stock and the quarterfinal elminations of Top Fuel and Funny Car.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Warren Johnson

Almost an hour to go before Nitro qualifying begins at Bristol.

Jeff Birchfield of the Johnson City Press and I were treated to a tour of Six-Time NHRA Pro Stock Champion Warren Johnson's car and trailer. Johnson, who turns 64 tomorrow, was recently inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame joining the likes of Wally Parks, Don Garlits, Shirley Muldowney, Don Prudhomme and Joe Amato in the HOF.

Known as 'The Professor' of Pro Stock, Warren has inspired many advances in technology when it comes to Pro Stock racing. He has suggested and developed many changes to the appearance and feel of the car. He was the first driver to use video as a way to monitor different aspects of his model. He has been a long advocate of the safety of NHRA drivers.

"I did it to save my own ass," Johnson joked with us.

The winner of 96 national-event victories, second all time to John Force's 122, Johnson drove into the top five in the POWERade point standings through the first seven races. Lately, however, he hasn't had much luck over the last few events. Johnson is optimistic the new track surface at Bristol Dragway will help his team this weekend.

There will be more on the legendary racer in Sunday's Elizabethton Star.

That thunder in the valley...

This morning around 8 a.m., the annual madness in the Valley began at Bristol Dragway.

Also known as Thunder Valley, Bristol is one of the top drag strips in the country and the site of this weekend's O'Reilly Thunder Valley Nationals.

Sportsman qualifying and elminations began this morning. Comp qualifuing begins at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. At 4:30, the fun begins with several top flight qualifying sessions that will last through the night, culminating with a spectacular fireworks show.

I will be doing a live blog throughout the event with some comments and feature notes. Be sure to check back with me later this evening.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Featured on Deadspin

I would say that having my article featured on the famous Deadspin blog was something else because the topic was very unique. And the fact that it was the funeral of Moe Riddle, who for years was a staple at Minor League baseball games in this area, makes it more special.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Twins: Opening Week Thoughts

The Appalachian League baseball season is underway and the Elizabethton Twins are off to an impressive 4-0 start with season opening sweeps of the Kingsport Mets and Greeneville Astros.

Elizabethton's offense is impressive. Mark Dolenc and Rene Leveret have really impressed me thus far. Especially Leveret. A standout in the Dominican Summer League a year ago, Leveret is one of the hardest working guys on the team and someone that has the potential to make a name for himself in the years to come. Elizabethton is fortunate to have him.

One of the surprises on the squad is the team's "local" boy Ben Petsch, a standout catcher at Belmont University in Nashville and native of Middle Tennessee. Petsch played left field in his debut against Kingsport and may play both catcher and outfielder this season. His bat has been surprising, as he's gotten off to a hot start with a home run and a clutch double thus far in the season.

The story thus far has been Loek Van Mil and Chris Cates. Van Mil, the game's tallest player at 7-1, and Cates, the game's shortest player at under 5-3, have had some neat moments off the field since Cates' arrival Saturday. During the second of two 90-minute rain delays on Sunday, Van Mil and Cates posed for some photos for some of the younger female fans. Van Mil bent his arm and his elbow fit exactly on top of Cates' head. Both of the players are having fun with the idea of playing each other and expected attention due to their respective heights.

This team is a fun bunch. The last fun bunch we had in town, the 2005 team, won the Appy League title. This team is off to a better start than that crew... so we may be in for a fun season!

I'll be back on Wednesday with a recap of the rematch of the previous two Appalachian League championship series as defending league champ Danville visits Elizabethton.