By Rick Sheek
Unaka’s middle school softball team hit another high note.
The early going is still rugged for Cloudland, which has restarted its program after a five-year sabbatical.
The Lady Rangers rolled 18-4 in Saturday’s Little Watauga Conference game at Ronnie Hicks Field.
“We had to move a lot of bodies around, and kind of started off sluggish at first,” Unaka coach James Pearson said. “But the pitcher finally settled down. She hasn’t pitched in a few weeks, so when she finally got in a groove we started scoring runs and started getting easy outs — which we were just playing sloopy at first.”
After the Rangers (4-4, 2-2) has surged to a 5-0 lead in the first inning, the Highlanders (0-2, 0-2) rallied to pull within a run in the second.
“We had a big inning,” Cloudland coach Rusty Chambers said. “You give a team like Unaka easy plays, don’t make them make easy plays in the field, don’t catch balls in the outfield — you’re just looking for a hurting.”
Ashley Doss fired a one-hitter. She fanned six and walked four with one hit batter.
Unaka’s Joanna Johnson scattered 11 hits. She walked five and hurled three wild pitches in 3 2/3 innings.
“We’re getting better,” Chambers said. “We’re getting better every day, but right now we don’t have enough room to go out there and make 10 or 11 errors a game and beat anybody — and be able to compete. We’re not strong enough right now to hit the ball as good as other teams are for seven innings, or five — whatever it may be, but we’re letting a lot of good pitches go by.
“We’re not being aggressive at the plate. We’ve got to be aggressive at the plate, and if we can make the plays in the field that are easy plays we’ll be fine. Until then, we’re just going to keep getting beat, beat and beat.”
Doss also batted 4 for 4. Hannah Tipton and Katlyn Weaver (who doubled) each went 3 for 4.
Sierra Wright rapped a run-scoring single to get Unaka started. A runner crossed on an error, two more were plated on an error and Makayla Woodby drove in a score.
That’s when the Highlanders regrouped. Jennifer Gibbs drove in a run, Emily Benfield tagged a run-scoring single, and Brienna King and Shian Strickland registered RBIs to cut the deficit to 5-4.
“It’s great what they’re doing,” Pearson said. “I’ve heard they’re coaching high school and JV, and I’m glad they’re in the league now. They have the athletes, it’s just going to take a little time — because a lot of them haven’t played before.
“I understand what they’re going through, and I commend them for what they are doing. They’ll come along. It’s just they have to get into softball shape, and learn how to hit the ball. They’ll be fine.”
Wright plated a runner in the bottom half. Tipton unleashed a two-run homer, and Haley Fair and Sarah Kirk each knocked in scores to make it 9-4.
The rout was pushed to 17-4 in the third. Tipton slapped a run-scoring single, Weaver drove in a run, a runner crossed on an error, Wood plated a score, Woodby belted a two-run single, Doss hit a run-scoring single and a runner came in on an error.
The onslaught was completed in the fourth on Sarah Kirk’s run-scoring single.
“I think we’re coming along,” Chambers said. “I think we’ve come a long way. We’ve got 17 kids out, they practice every day and they’re working hard.
“We’re starting from the ground up. We’re just working on getting better.”