By Rick Sheek
The Junior Lady Warriors continue to march toward the Little Watauga Conference championship.
In a showdown of talented softball teams, Happy Valley’s girls dismantled visiting Unaka 13-4 on Friday. The Warriors (10-1) remain undefeated in the league with two games left.
“We started out a little slow, but I’m proud of them for bouncing back,” Happy Valley coach Mandy Greer said. “When they got their back to the wall, they really turned it up a notch. They kept it up the whole rest of the game, so I’m proud of them for not tucking their head and running.”
The Rangers (10-5, 4-3) actually led 3-1 in the third inning, before the Warriors cut loose with three explosive innings.
“I was proud of the way we played at first,” Unaka coach James Pearson said. “We just started making errors, and you can’t give a good team like Happy Valley shots like that everytime they get up to bat.”
Happy Valley’s Kalee Johnson was touched for five hits and yielded two earned runs. She struck out seven, walked six and hit three batters.
In absorbing the loss, Ashley Doss was roughed up for 13 hits and allowed nine earned runs. She fanned two, walked two and hurled five wild pitches.
Unaka’s Madison Ensor batted 4 for 4.
The Warriors’ Sydney Puckett went 3 for 4 with three RBIs and two stolen bases. Johnson was 2 for 3 with four RBIs and two steals, while Beth Reece hit 2 for 4 and recorded two steals.
“We had those two bad innings, where we let them score four or five runs apiece,” Pearson said. “It kind of got sloppy, and we made way too many errors. You can’t give a good team like that errors.
“Everytime we needed a hit, we didn’t get one. Everytime they needed a hit, they got it.”
Doss put the Rangers up with a run-scoring single in the first inning. A passed ball saw Happy Valley knot the affair.
Ensor ripped a run-scoring single in the second, and an error plated a runner to push the Rangers’ advantage to 3-1. Unaka stranded three.
Puckett belted a run-scoring double and Johnson delivered a run-scoring single in the bottom half. Runners crossed on an error and wild pitch, as Happy Valley surged ahead 5-3.
The Warriors retired Unaka with a double play in the fourth. Puckett unleashed a two-run single, Reece rapped a run-scoring single, Johnson tagged a sacrifice fly and an error plated a score to push the rout to 10-3.
“The middle of the lineup, they really stepped up,” Greer said. “We started off sluggish, but it’s not really how you start always. It’s how you finish, and I was proud of them for stepping up.
“I thought they really did their jobs. A lot of girls bunted and got people over, so even though you don’t look like a super-hero — every person out, all nine, had a job to do and they did it very well.”
Happy Valley’s Kaitlyn Roberts singled in the fifth, stole second and was left on third.
A runner was walked in and Unaka trimmed the deficit to 10-4 in the sixth. The Rangers stranded six.
The onslaught was completed in the sixth. Johnson clubbed a two-run double and a wild pitch plated a score.
The Rangers juiced the bags in the seventh, but came up empty.
“I hate losing, but sometimes a loss isn’t a bad thing,” Pearson said. “It shows you what you need to work on, with the tournament just around the corner.”