By Tim Chambers
KNOXVILLE — Unaka’s quest to make the elite eight ended in Knoxville on Saturday against a Grace Christian squad that proved to be “Ram” tough. The Rangers fell 7-0 in a substate affair, despite getting an excellent pitching effort from its junior hurler, Isaac Ray.
Head coach Aaron Dugger was pleased with Unaka’s effort after the loss. A few key hits with runners on might have made it a different outcome.
“We had the bases loaded one time and a couple of runners on in two other innings, but couldn’t punch one in,” said Dugger. “Isaac Ray pitched his tail off, but we didn’t give him the run support he needed. We didn’t hit the ball, nor did we make them play any defense.”
The Rangers got a pair of hits in the first inning from Billy Bales and Jacob Hill but couldn’t score.
Grace took advantage of a dropped fly ball in right field in the bottom half to take a 1-0 lead.
It stayed that way until the fourth, when the Rams sent three runs across the dish. Back-to-back base hits by Chad Newsome, David Stallworth and Josh Lipford upped their advantage at 2-0. Chandler Adkins’s two out, two-run single made it 4-0 before Unaka could escape further damage.
The Rams used a double by Zack Slagle and a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning to score their fifth run.
A triple by Matt Cunningham and a single from Xander Helton accounted for their final two runs of the game.
Ray scattered 11 hits on the day against a Grace squad which had been scoring in double digits in almost every game over the last half of the season. Every Grace player in the starting lineup had at least one hit. Cunningham and Newsome provided two apiece.
Ray and Jeffery Yerkes had one hit apiece in addition to the first inning singles by Bales and Hill. They totaled only four in the game.
The key for Grace was their pitching. Slagle struck out 11 batters in six innings of work before giving way to Helton in the seventh. The nephew of Colorado Rockies star Todd Helton struck out two batters in the final frame.
Unaka’s Weston Colbaugh delivered a superior job behind the plate for the Rangers. He threw out two Grace runners trying to steal.
Dugger felt like his team’s inability to put pressure on Grace’s defense factored in the outcome.
“We got excellent pitching and played good defense other than the dropped fly ball that allowed a run to score,” said Dugger. “On the flip side, when you strikeout 13 times, you don’t force the other team to make plays you’re in trouble. You can’t beat a good baseball team like Grace without scoring some runs and putting pressure on them. But I’m proud our kids because they did an very good job of making it this far.”
Unaka 000 000 0 — 0 4 2 Grace 100 312 x — 7 11 0
Ray and Colbaugh. Smith, Helton (7) and Newsome. W—Smith. L—Ray.