By Jamie Combs
It wasn’t a bed-of-roses performance for Unaka High’s softball team, but the Lady Rangers did earn some verbal bouquets.
Wriggling out of a major first-inning jam with minimal damage, Unaka would forge ahead for a 6-2, six-inning victory over Happy Valley on Tuesday at Ronnie Hicks Field.
“You know, Happy Valley’s not a team to just look over,” said Lady Rangers coach Carrie Stevens. “They’re a pretty decent team. (With them) beating us at the beginning of the season, I think the girls really wanted it this time. And that’s what we’ve been talking to them about — getting their hearts in it a hundred percent and getting their heads in it a hundred percent.
“I feel like today, maybe not throughout the whole game but the majority of the game, their hearts were in it and their heads were in it. It was definitely an improvement from where we’ve been the last few games.”
Heavy rain halted action with two away in the top of the seventh, and moments later the umpires elected to call it a day — reverting the game to the end of the sixth.
The Lady Warriors (6-8) had made it a 6-3 score in the seventh. Moreover, they had the potential tying run at the plate.
“We were coming back, we didn’t quit — even with two outs,” said HV coach Mike Dorsey. “We’ve been trying to stress that, and that’s what they did.”
Pitcher Leslie Colbaugh struggled for Unaka (4-7) at the start, plunking leadoff batter Kaitlin Campbell and walking Allison Williams before an unsuccessful fielder’s choice loaded the bases. Kiara Coffey then singled home Campbell by stroking the ball to left field.
However, with HV up 1-0 and licking its chops for more, Colbaugh did a quick turnaround by retiring the next three batters — one by strikeout, one on an infield fly and the last on an infield grounder.
“That was really big to get out of an inning with bases loaded against a pretty good hitting team with only one run,” Stevens said. “I was really proud of that. And we didn’t get down on ourselves, either. In the past, we get down a run or two and everybody’s moping in the dugout. We’ve been talking to them a lot about that over the past week, not being down on themselves.”
Said Dorsey of his team’s missed opportunity: “We did that the whole game. We had bases loaded several times and got only one run out of it.”
Colbaugh wound up tossing a three-hitter. She tallied just one strikeout (vs. 2 walks), but regularly induced playable grounders and fly balls.
“I’ve been out for a couple of weeks for hurting my ankle, and it’s really hard getting back into it,” she said. “And I’ve not pitched that much during the games anyway. But after I got settled in, I trusted my defense and it helped me a lot.”
The Lady Rangers somewhat took control in the third. Autumn Bradshaw and Kassie Winters sandwiched bunt singles around a Jessie Matheson sacrifice, and a throwing error enabled Matheson to reach safely — helping set up Madison Weaver’s bases-loaded walk.
With the score knotted, Colbaugh delivered an RBI single to right center. From there, Winters scored on a wild pitch for a 3-1 Unaka advantage.
Happy Valley tightened the screws in the fifth. Katrina Wiggins drawing a hit-by-pitch and singles from Campbell and Brooke Simmons loaded the bases, then Coffey punched a one-out RBI grounder.
The Lady Warriors, though, stranded two runners that inning, and Unaka produced three more tallies in the sixth.
Back-to-back walks — issued to Lynsey Buckles and Shanda Matheson — combined with a wild pitch got the Lady Rangers back in gear, and with two outs Jessie Matheson sent a run-scoring single up the middle. Shanda would come home on a double steal, then an errant throw on a Winters grounder pushed across the final run.
“We’re starting to come together,” Colbaugh said. “The more we play, the more we’ll start coming together and playing as a team. Right now, we’re a new team. We lost four starters from last year, but once we start playing more and more on through the season, we’ll become better.”
Jessie Matheson went 2-for-3 (2 runs) and Winters 2-for-4 as Unaka mustered a six-hit attack against Simmons. Yielding four earned runs, Simmons put up seven strikeouts against four walks for a team going through a rough patch.
“Jessa (Dugger) has been out with an elbow, Kiara’s wrist on her right hand, then Brooke got bronchitis and Brittany Morefield is home with pneumonia,” Dorsey said. “When you have four aching and you’re sitting out here in the rain, it’s kind of tough.
“But we’ve got Elizabethton on Thursday and I expect them to bounce back.”
Unaka is scheduled to play at Cloudland today.
Happy Valley 100 010 — 2 3 3
Unaka 003 003 — 6 6 0
Simmons and Coffey. Colbaugh and J.Matheson. W—Colbaugh. L–Simmons.