By Gene Renfro
HAMPTON — A pair of big innings helped Unaka to a 9-3 win at Hampton to end the Watauga Valley Conference schedule for both teams Tuesday.
The Rangers scored five times in the second and added four more in the sixth to improve to 11-11 overall. Unaka’s conference record evened up at 4-4 and the Rangers will play University High, the reguar-season runner up, in the opening round of the District 1-A tournament.
Unaka will play at Daniel Boone twice Thursday to wrap up the regular season.
“We jumped out early and kinda put it on cruise. I didn’t like that,” Unaka head coach Aaron Dugger said. “We had a chance to open it up and we didn’t.”
That chance to open it up saw 11 Rangers stranded on the bases, with six in scoring position. Unaka was just 3-for-11 in RBI opportunities, and 5-for-19 with runners on base.
An error got the Unaka second inning started as Jeff Yerkes reached when Tristan Robinson misplayed a ball to him. After a strikeout, a single by Weston Colbaugh and walk to Brett Crawford loaded the bases for Billy Bales. His long single may have hit off the fence in left, but each Ranger on base could only move up 90 feet. That set the stage for Eli Rasnick, who tripled deep in the right-center gap to push in three scores. Danny Bales grounded out to short, but Rasnick came in to make it a 5-1 contest.
Billy Bales was 2-for-5 while Danny Bales finished 1-for-3 with two walks. Eli Rasnick and Josh Rasnick both pounded out two hits apiece while Colbaugh went 2-for-3 with a walk.
“Been the story of the year for us,” Hampton head coach Matthew Hardin said. “We could hold them for just three or four innings.”
Hampton used a pair of two-out hits in the first inning to gain the lead. Jeff Hughis singled to right before Taylor Edwards doubled to left center on a ball that went to the fence.
The Bulldogs, now 2-13 overall and 2-6 in the league, will play Cosby Friday in a final tune up before the District 1-A tournament. Hampton will face off against league rival Cloudland in the first round.
The Rangers threatened again in the fourth with runners at second and third. However, lefty hurler T.J. Hicks was able to get a strikeout of Thomas Hardin to end the frame. For Hicks, it was his sixth K of the game as he struck out the side in the fourth.
Hampton carried that momentum of keeping the game at 5-1 into the home half of the frame. The home-standing Bulldogs benefited from three walks to load the bases.
Josh Rasnick was able to get a strikeout, but Dallas Clawson punched a single into left that led to a pair of runs. On the play the ball scooted by Yerkes, allowing Clawson and Stone Hutchinson to get into scoring position. Rasnick then quelled the frame with his fourth strikeout of the day.
Unaka batted around again in the sixth for some insurance runs. Thomas Hardin and Laban Carrier both drew bases-loaded walks. In all, four walks were given out in the inning.
Colbaugh added a two-run single to right to cap the scoring. Those final two runs were charged to Mark Ailport, who came in from center in relief. He faced four Ranger batters and walked three of them.
Overall, Josh Rasnick went the distance on the mound and gave up three runs on five hits. He struck out six and walked five others. In addition, he did not allow a multi-hit game by any Bulldog batter.
“(Josh) Rasnick didn’t have his best stuff, but I say that and they only had five hits off him,” Dugger said about his hurler.
Hughis, Hutchinson and Clawson all had a hit and drew a walk to get on base twice apiece.
Hicks, a sophomore, completed 51⁄3 innings where seven hits were posted. He allowed the first seven runs, five of which were earned. Hicks struck out nine of the 30 Rangers he faced, but walked five, hit another and threw two wild pitches.