By Tim Chambers
JONESBOROUGH — Unaka’s quest to capture another Watauga Valley Conference baseball championship took a “U” turn on Tuesday afternoon at Persimmon Ridge Park, compliments of Zac Vicars and Hunter Tester.
The dynamic duo led University High to a 5-1 win, moving the Jr. Bucs within a game of league-leading North Greene. The Junior Bucs dropped a 4-1 decision to the Huskies on Monday.
Unaka’s skipper Aaron Dugger knows that his squad still controls its own destiny despite the loss. He complimented the Bucs for the win.
“Tester threw a good game, but two plays really hurt us today,” said Dugger. “I don’t know if the two-run homer in the first gets out anywhere else but here, and then the ball hit down the right-field line. Both were back breakers. Other than that, Isaac Ray gave us a chance to win. We just couldn’t put any pressure on them and that was the difference in the game.”
Vicarsand Tester proved to be thorns in the side of Unaka on this day.
In the first inning, Vickers launched a fast ball over the centerfield fence, scoring himself and Andy Hardin — who had singled — for a 2-0 lead. That would be all the momentum needed for Tester, who didn’t allow a run until the last inning. He scattered five hits and fanned seven in his complete game performance.
“He pitched well,” UH head coach Joe Borden said of Tester. “It was super important to bounce back today and get a win. We didn’t play bad yesterday — North Greene just played better. I expect the league race to go down to the wire between the three of us. Unaka did a good job of battling back late. You always expect that out of them.”
The Junior Bucs (2-1, 8-2) added two more runs in the second inning to go up 4-0. A diving Brett Crawford missed hauling in Hardin’s two-run single, which fell about a foot inside the right field line, by inches.
On the flip side, the defensive effort by the UH infield was spectacular. Twice they turned double plays which kept the Rangers from having a potential big inning, with Stephen Bartow on the trigger end.
Unaka (0-1, 4-6) had runners at second and third with nobody out in the fourth inning, but couldn’t score.
Vicars provided a little more insurance for UH in the fifth with a solo home run that landed well upon the bank beyond the left-field fence. He ended the day a perfect 3-for-3 with three RBIs.
“This was a big win for us after losing to North Greene,” said Vicars. “I was 0-3 against them yesterday, so it was good to bounce back and hit it well today. Hunter pitched great and Stephen Bartow turned two double plays in the field. Pitching and defense is what pulled us through in this game.”
Crawford drove home Unaka’s only run in the seventh inning with a single that plated Thomas Hardin, who had reached on an error. Two runners were on when Tester got the final out on a pop out to center.
Hardin complemented Vicars with a 3-for-4 effort. Marshall Hurley and Brock Wherry each went 1-for-2.
Weston Colbaugh’s double was Unaka’s only extra base hit. Danny Bales, Josh Rasnick, Jeffrey Yerkes added one apiece along with Crawford.
Dugger felt like his team’s lack of patience hurt them at the dish.
“I thought we struggled at the plate today and weren’t disciplined,” added Dugger. “I told the kids after the game that nothing is over. We’ve got UH one more time and North Greene twice, so it’s wide open. We’ve got to clean some stuff up, but hats off to them for playing a great game. They outplayed us. That’s the bottom line.”
The Rangers will be at home today to take on Sullivan Central at 4:30.
Unaka 000 000 1 — 1 5 1
U. High 220 010 x — 5 9 1
Ray and Colbaugh. Tester and Hardin. W—Tester. L—Ray. HRs—UH, Vickers 2