By Tim Chambers
Good pitching, solid defense and clutch hitting were the perfect ingredients needed for cooking up a winning casserole on Tuesday night at Anglin Field.
Unicoi’s “Iron Chef” effort chopped Elizabethton from the District 1-AA tournament with a 7-2 loss, ending the Cyclones’ season at 23-10.
The Blue Devils must now beat Johnson County twice to win the championship, but assured themselves a spot in Monday’s regional.
For ’Betsy, it was not the ending that many envisioned. It basically had to expend its number one and two pitchers the night before to beat Sullivan East 8-7.
Coach Joe Nix felt like the little things that led up to them winning the conference championship were lacking against Unicoi.
“Last night’s game with East was a big game — an emotional one — and we did some things on the mound that we were hoping not to do,” said Nix. “But we had all the confidence in world with who we ran out there today. We had a great year and most of that was due to our pitching and defense, but for some reason or other we didn’t have that same type of defense today. It hurt us giving them extra opportunities — extra outs.”
The Cyclones led only one time in the game. They managed to go up 1-0 on Taylor Edwards’ single that scored Anthony Ward, who had walked in the second inning.
Unicoi reeled off four runs in the third, with only two of them earned.
A towering, run-scoring triple from Ethan Rice swung momentum Unicoi’s way and tied the game at 1-1. Timmy Graham and Jonathan Davis added run-scoring base hits that were sandwiched in between two costly errors.
Cory Richardson started on the mound for Elizabethton, but was relieved by McKenly Berry in the third after Unicoi had scored three times. The Tusculum signee had thrown 3 2/3 innings in Monday’s 8-7 win over East, but ’Betsy was hoping that he might be able to shut down the red-hot Blue Devils.
Instead, Unicoi just kept adding to its lead.
Another Cyclone error led to two unearned runs being scored in the fifth inning, increasing the advantage to 6-1.
“Obviously you wanted to avoid the crooked innings, but we didn’t,” added Nix. “I don’t know if it made us press a bit or what when we got behind. Baseball is a funny game. It’s sometimes how you get up and respond after getting down. We just weren’t able to do it two nights in a row.”
Elizabethton used a double by Wes Montgomery in the bottom half to score Cody Guess, who had singled but it was too little too late.
Ryan Lingerfelt drove home Unicoi’s final run in the seventh with one of his three hits on the day. He ended the game going 3-4 with two runs scored. Rice, Graham and Davis had good nights, batting 2-for-4 apiece. Austin Garrabrant was 1-for-2.
Quincy Jackson, Edwards, Ward and Guess went 1-for-2 apiece to pace the Cyclones. Montgomery’s double was the team’s only extra-base hit.
The biggest factor in the game was the dominant pitching of Davis and the Blue Devils’ defense. The slick-looking southpaw struck out six while going the distance on the mound. Ten ground-ball outs were recorded by Unicoi’s infield, including one outstanding web gem by Hunter Goddard. Only two fly ball outs were nabbed by their outfield.
“Didn’t they play good defense?” asked Unicoi’s Charlie Baxter about his team. “They backed the pitcher up so good. Davis pitched well — he threw us a good ball game — plus we got 12 hits. We got some of them back-to-back and scored runners when we had to. That was a key for us getting out in front. This was probably one of our best games this season. We just got to match this type of performance and keep up the work.”
Seven seniors, Richardson, Montgomery, Berry, Jordan Hinshaw, Guess, Jesse Clark and Chad Pritchard, played their final game for ’Betsy. Nix praised the septet for raising the bar.
“These seven guys have poured their heart and soul into this program,” said Nix. “We feel confident about what they’re going to do later on in life because they are all great young men. They’ll be successful in whatever they do. They definitely did a good job of laying the foundation for us to build a better baseball program.”
Unicoi County 004 021 0 — 7 12 1
Elizabethton 020 010 0 — 8 5 5
Davis and Graham. C. Richardson, Berry (3), Montgomery (7) and Miller. W—Davis. L—Richardson.