By Tim Chambers
Willie Nelson once fell on hard times, much like Cloudland’s baseball team has this season. On the road again, the Highlanders fell to Unaka 17-0 Thursday afternoon at Claude Holsclaw Field.
The Rangers scored a dozen runs in the first inning and put it on cruise control over their final three at-bats. Coach Aaron Dugger was happy with his team’s play — bouncing back from a 2-1 loss at North Greene.
“I was happy with our intensity level after the North Greene loss,” said Dugger. “It was a nine-inning conference game that we could have won. If this team can stick to the plan, then I believe we’ll be all right in the end. They know what they need to do.”
Cloudland’s lone highlight came in the first inning when walks to Danny Arnett and Colby Gwyn loaded the bases after Reed Jennings’ single. Unfortunately, the Highlanders also struck out three times and came away empty-handed.
The Rangers would put up a dirty dozen in the bottom half, thanks to nine base hits, a walk, one hit batsman and two Cloudland errors.
Danny Bales had a two-run single, as did Weston Colbaugh and Isaac Ray. Thomas Hardin drove in three runs with a pair of base hits. Billy Bales also had two hits in the frame. Ray’s triple plated the final two runs in the inning.
Just as impressive was the pitching performance by Unaka’s Eli Rasnick.
He finished the game with a two-hitter and 10 strikeouts, including three in the fourth inning on only 12 pitches.
“He’s had a couple of good outings the last two times out,” said Dugger. “He threw well against South Greene and today he was on. That’s important because we’re going to need him from here out.”
The Rangers added two runs in the second and three more in the fourth that accounted for the 17 total.
Brett Crawford blasted a two-run double during the fourth inning.
Arnett would have the only other hit in the game for Cloudland.
Billy Bales went 3-for-3 to top Unaka’s hitting department. Ray and Hardin were 2-for-2 each with three RBIs. Danny Bales had a pair of hits and drove home three runs. Colbaugh and Crawford each went 1-for-1 with two RBIs.
Dugger rewarded his bench by playing them all by the third inning. He knows that beating North Greene at home next week can create a three-way tie for first place.
“North Greene, UH and us are pretty even and every game is going to be tight,” added Dugger. “These kids know the games that count. They’ve got their focus set on May and that stretch run. It’s definitely going to be a challenge.”
The Rangers will play at home today against Chuckey- Doak at 4:30 p.m.
Cloudland 000 00 — 0 2 4
Unaka (12)20 3x — 17 13 0
Hyden, Nelson (3), and Shell. Rasnick and Colbaugh, Hill (4). W—Rasnick. L—Hyden.