By Rick Sheek
He welcomed the situation he stepped into, and he rose to the occasion.
Thomas Miller, with two out and the game tied in the bottom of the seventh, ripped a run-scoring single on Monday evening in spurring Elizabethton to a 5-4 Three Rivers Conference baseball victory over Unicoi County at Joe O’Brien Field.
“We knew before the inning that it was going to be rolled over to the top of the lineup,” Miller said. “One of us was going to have to come up big, and we were going to have to piece a few things together. That’s exactly what we needed to do, and that’s exactly what we did.”
The Cyclones (10-5, 6-1) trailed 4-3 when they came to that final at-bat. Chad Pritchard had unleashed a run-scoring single, and advanced to third on an error before Miller smacked the first pitch delivered by left-hander Jonathan Davis into left field.
“He’s been a guy all year, when he’s up you know he’s going to hit it hard somewhere,” Elizabethton coach Joe Nix said. “He’s hit a lot of atom balls this year, too. He’s just smoked balls right at guys.
“We knew he was going to hit the ball somewhere, just hoping he could find some open field there.”
The rally began with pinch-hitter Taylor Davis leading off with a single. Eric Carter hit the diamond as a pinch-runner, before pinch-hitter Chris Lanthorn delivered a sacrifice bunt.
Pritchard lined a shot between the first and second baseman, which plated Carter to knot the affair. An errant throw put Pritchard on third.
“We definitely had the right guys up at the right time,” Nix said. “Taylor, that pinch-hit base hit was huge getting us going. Then Lanthorn with that great bunt
“We made it down to the last strike with Pritchard, and he comes through. He couldn’t have hit it any better. Two guys barely out of reach, both back and forth, it was like he had a remote control with the thing. Then a great job, heads up, turning a single and getting on third base — and then Tommy coming through there in the clutch, that was huge.”
Wes Montgomery fired the first six innings for Elizabethton. He yielded four hits, the four earned runs and struck out five with four walks.
Cory Richardson took the mound to close the seventh. He walked one in facing five batters, one which reached on an error.
Davis fanned nine and walked two, while scattering seven hits and surrendering four earned runs.
“Their pitcher did a heck of a job,” Nix said. “Davis kept us off-balance all day. Just when I thought we’d probably start getting to him, he’d mix it up a little more. That kid’s a good pitcher — gutsy performance, going the distance like that.”
Ryan Lingerfelt blasted a two-run triple in the first inning. Ethan Rice drove him in to put Unicoi (6-7, 4-4) up 3-0.
Elizabethton’s Quincy Jackson doubled in the second, but was stranded on third. Rice’s sacrifice fly in the third pushed the four-time Class AA state champion Blue Devils’ advantage to 4-0.
Miller betled a two-run double in the bottom half of that inning. Anthony Ward’s run-scoring single trimmed the deficit to 4-3.
With two out in the sixth, Elizabethton’s Conner Campbell doubled and was stranded. In the seventh, Unicoi left two runners on.
The Cyclones remain a half game back of Sullivan East atop the league standings. The teams have split thus far and East has played one more conference contest.
“It’s always in the back of your mind whenever you’re playing Unicoi, or any conference team,” Miller said. “You’re thinking we’ve got to get this win, and we pulled it out from behind tonight and got it. We fought back.”
The Devils’ Aaron Garrabrant batted 2 for 3.
Miller was 2 for 4 with the three RBIs.
“I know Unicoi, they haven’t had the success early on they’re use to in the past,” Nix said. “But they’re still a very quality team, especially with the lead. When they get a lead and have confidence, they’re a very tough team to beat.
“Our guys’ backs were up against the wall. We had doubt, and that’s the one thing you want to try and get out of. Until the last out is recorded, you can’t tell what is going to happen — and Unicoi did a great job of putting it to us for six innings.”
Unicoi Co. 301 000 0 — 4 4 1
Elizabethton 003 000 2 — 5 7 3
Davis and Graham. Montgomery, Richardson (7) and Miller. W—Richardson (3-1). L—Davis (1-3).