Unaka’s leadoff hitter and center fielder Billy Bales set the tone for the afternoon with a blast over the left-field fence in his first at bat, giving Unaka a quick lead in its Watauga Valley Conference clash with Hampton on Friday afternoon at Claude Holsclaw Field.
Billy and twin brother Danny combined to go 4-for-5 at the plate with four runs batted in as Unaka rolled to a 10-0 whitewashing of Hampton that was called after five innings.
Billy was 3-for-3 with a solo homer, two singles, two runs scored and two RBIs while Danny finished 1-for-2 with a walk and a two-run single in the Rangers’ six run fourth that climaxed this game.
“I just tried to settle in and have a good at bat,” said Billy Bales. “Coach put me in at leadoff and I haven’t really been hitting that well lately, but I got one that he left down the middle and up a little bit and hit it out.
“I’m seeing the ball better and finding my rhythm at the plate. We are working hard to get better as a team. It was disappointing to lose the streak (16 conference titles either won or tied), but we can turn things around in the tournament and get to where we want to be.”
Mark Ailport started on the hill for the Bulldogs (2-12, 2-5 WVC) and Bales greeted him with a long drive that sailed over the fence in left and sparked the Ranger bats on this day.
“Billy got us going with the home run, and then he came through with big hits to score runs later on,” said Rangers head coach Aaron Dugger. “That was big.”
Unaka (9-10, 4-3 WVC) plated three runs in the second frame as pitcher Isaac Ray walked and one-out later left fielder Jeffrey Yerkes singled to put Rangers on first and second.
Right fielder Brett Crawford looped a double over ’Dogs first baseman Taylor Edwards down the right field line to plate Ray and put runners on second and third.
A sacrifice fly by catcher Weston Colbaugh got another run home to give Unaka a 3-0 lead and Billy Bales singled sharply to left for another run and a 4-0 Ranger lead.
Ray, a sophomore, began a little shaky as Hampton’s first two hitters — Ailport and designated hitter David Finney — both touched him for base hits putting Bulldog runners on first and second.
“Ray moved the ball around,” said Dugger. “When he gets up in the zone he can get hit a little bit so staying low and keeping hitters off balance is what I want him to do. He’ll get some fly balls hit off him, and a few of them found holes early on.”
Ray aided his cause when he fielded a sharp grounder off the bat of T.J. Hicks wheeled and fired to Danny Bales at third for the force on Ailport and Bales gunned down Hicks at first for a 1-5-3 twin killing. Ray then struck out Edwards to end the Dogs threat.
“We got the big double play in the first inning that got us going, but it could have been worse,” said Dugger. “I ran us out of two of the first four innings, but the kids picked me up and got us back by battling and getting that big inning in the fourth.”
Ray finished with a five-hitter, striking out six and walking one in going the distance for the Rangers.
Ailport got out of the third inning unscathed as a heads up play by second baseman Jeff Hughis got him and the Bulldogs off the hook. Unaka senior first baseman Josh Rasnick drew a one out walk but was erased on a ground ball by Ray to short.
Thomas Hardin then rolled one past Edwards at first that Hughis fielded at the outfield grass. Ray attempted to move to third on the play but Hughis fired across to ’Dogs third baseman Tristan Robinson, who applied the tag.
The Rangers sent 10 hitters to the dish in the fourth, scoring six times with RBI knocks by Eli Rasnick, and Danny Bales (two RBI) and a two-run double by Hardin.
The Rangers closed the game by doubling a Hampton runner off first base on a foul ball caught by Colbaugh behind the plate off the bat of Ailport.
“This team I have is not as bad as our record,” Dugger said. “We have lost some heartbreakers to some very good teams, and been right there in others only to lose a close game. Right now were not worrying about anything but getting better for the first of May and the district tournament.”
Lefty starter Jonathan Wright had control issues that caused him to walk nine batters — six in the top of the second inning.
All six came around to score as only two balls were put into play in the stanza, including an RBI hit by Townsend. Eddie Olvera reached on an error that plated two runs, and bases on balls did the rest.
Chris “Beanie” Wells started for Hampton and he had some difficulties with the strike zone as well, walking the first two Unaka hitters he faced in the second. Crawford had an RBI hit and another run came home on a ground ball out by Hardin as Unaka cut the lead to 6-2.
Adam Timbs and Chris “Big Head” Ellis had base knocks for Hampton in the third. The game was called in the middle of the inning.
Hampton 000 00 — 0 5 1
Unaka 130 6x — 10 10 0
Ailport, Hutchinson (4) and Clawson. Ray and Colbaugh. W—Ray. L—Ailport. DP—UHS 2. LOB—H 5, U 4. HRs—B. Bales. 2Bs—Crawford, Hardin.
Hampton 062 — 8
Unaka 02x — 2