By Rick Sheek
BAILEYTON — Living up to the old Ranger baseball tradition, Unaka is one win away from clinching a berth in the Region 1-A semifinals.
The Rangers disposed of Hampton 6-0 in Tuesday’s District 1-A losers’ bracket semifinal. Unaka (12-13) meets University High (17-6) today at 4:45 in the losers’ bracket final, with the winner advancing to meet host and top seed North Greene (18-8) afterwards in the championship.
“Any way you can advance, we’ll take it,” Unaka coach Aaron Dugger said. “We knew what we had to do, and the kids came out and they didn’t press there early when the game was kind of tight. We had better approaches at the plate later on in the game, and that ended up how we kind of opened it up a little bit.”
Leading just 3-0, Eli Rasnick unleashed a two-run double and Danny Bales’ run-scoring double in the sixth inning completed the onslaught.
“We hit the ball,” Hampton coach Matthew Hardin said. “A lot of the solid hits that we got were just right at somebody. We got the bases loaded.
“Stone hit the ball pretty solid. It was just right at somebody, and they turned a double play.”
Indeed, the Bulldogs juiced the bags with one out in the fourth. Stone Hutchinson lined a shot to Rasnick at shortstop, who fired to Josh Rasnick at first base for the double play.
Thomas Hardin went the distance for the Rangers, scattering four hits. He struck out four and walked three.
“Tom came in, a sophomore in an elimination game, and pitched a dandy,” Dugger said. “He pitched a gem. Hats off to him for coming and giving us a chance.”
Hampton’s Mark Ailport hurled three innings, allowing a hit and earned run. He fanned two and walked four.
Jeffrey Hughes was on the mound the final three innings. He was touched for six hits, five earned runs and struck out two.
The Bulldogs’ Taylor Edwards batted 3 for 3. For Unaka, Eli Rasnick and Weston Colbaugh were each 2 for 3.
Eli Rasnick was walked in the first, stole second and was stranded. In the second, Edwards singled and was left on.
Ailport singled with two out in the third, but was thrown out attempting to steal by Colbaugh.
The finally punched in that needed run in the bottom half. Danny Bales plated a runner with a sacrifice bunt.
A pair of walks and an Edwards single put Hampton in prime position to move ahead in the fourth, before being turned away.
“It’s been that way all year,” Hardin, whose club recorded four wins this spring, said. “We get scoring opportunities, and we either strike out or hit the ball hard right at somebody. Our pitchers pitched great.
“They had to hit the ball. I think in the last three games that we’ve played, we’ve committed three errors. We’re not walking people — if we could ever get the hits to start falling we’d be all right.”
Colbaugh doubled in the bottom half, before being stranded. A Unaka double play also retired the Bulldogs in the fifth when second baseman Jacob Hall and the Rasnicks hooked up.
The Rangers increased their advantage to 3-0 in the bottom half. Billy Bales led off with a double, with two out Josh Rasnick doubled him in and Hardin rapped a run-scoring single.
Hampton’s David Finney singled in the sixth, and was left on. The Bulldogs’ final at-bat, Edwards was thrown out at home for the final out.
Unaka’s Isaac Ray gets the ball today in another elimination affair.
“We’re going to roll hopefully Ray out there tomorrow,” Dugger said. “He stubbed his middle finger on this throwing hand last night, so that was one of the reasons why he didn’t throw today. Hopefully with a day’s rest he’ll be able to go tomorrow. We’re in good shape.”
Hampton 000 000 0 — 0 5 1
Unaka 001 023 x — 6 7 1
Ailport, Hughis (4) and Clawson. Hardin and Colbaugh. W—Hardin. L—Ailport.