By Rick Sheek
Unaka and Hampton each find themselves on the brink of elimination following District 1-A softball tournament action on Monday evening at Ronnie Hicks Field.
The Lady Rangers were edged 2-1 by North Greene. University High routed Hampton 12-0.
Unaka (11-24) and the Bulldogs (11- 17) meet in an elimination game today at 4:30. After UH (26-10) and North Greene (10-14) square off in the winners’ bracket final at 6, that loser awaits the Unaka- Hampton winner in the losers’ bracket final.
The Rangers managed only three hits. They swept North Greene in the regular season.
“It seems like our defense was probably falling apart at the beginning, and now our offense is falling apart,” Unaka coach Carrie Stevens said. “We’re just not hitting the ball. I kind of feel like some of (the Rangers) overlooked them, because they hadn’t scored against us.
“They only had four hits, so we just didn’t hit the ball. We weren’t ready to play.”
The Huskies amassed all the offense they needed in the first inning. Briana French belted a two-run homer.
“I think we were ready to play defensively, but we got up to the plate and we hit it right at them,” Stevens said. “We had two hard hits I think, and it was right at the center fielder. Everything else was just kind of hit softly into the infield, and they’re going to make plays on that.”
A pair of Rangers were walked in the bottom half of the first, but one was picked off and the other stranded. North Greene left a runner on second base in the second.
Unaka’s Brandi Ensor delivered a double off the left field wall in the bottom half. She scored on an error, and the Rangers left the bags juiced.
Alicia Colbaugh had singled in the second. Leslie Colbaugh collected the final Unaka hit, a single in the third.
The Rangers went down 1-2-3 in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings. Unaka first baseman Lynnsey Buckles turned unassisted double play in the fifth.
North Greene’s Megan Taylor hurled the three-hitter in not yielding an earned run. She struck out one and walked three.
The Rangers’ Leslie Colbaugh was touched for the four hits and allowed the two earned runs. She fanned four and walked one.
Unaka is the defending district champion, and reached the state tournament the past two springs.
“I tell them to play every game like it’s their last, and now we’re down to the point where it might be,” Stevens said. “They’re either going to dig down deep and find a way out of this, and fight our way back up to the winner bracket, or our season is going to end earlier than it probably ever has.”
The Lady Bulldogs got off to a sloppy start and never recovered.
UH led 3-0 after its first at-bat, before cutting loose for nine runs in the third inning.
“Too many errors,” Hampton coach Bill Doss said. “That’s the bottom like right there. We had too many errors, and they didn’t step up and hit the ball when they needed to. That’s the bottom line of the whole game.”
A bright spot for the Bulldogs was Carmen Cauldron, who batted 2 for 2. However, she was caught stealing in the fourth.
UH’s Haley Faulkner fired a four-hitter and struck out four with no walks. No Bulldog got past first base.
Hampton’s Molly Crabtree was roughed up for 15 hits, while yielding five earned runs and fanning two without a walk.
The Junior Bucs’ Belle Bright (five RBIs) and Tanner Horton each batted 3 for 3. Mollee Cohee, Faulkner and Taylor Treadway were all 2 for 3, while Sarah Mast was 2 for 4.
“That’s the way we play,” Doss said. “You cannot give a good team errors and expect to win. We did not play like we should have, and they’re better than that.
“I’ve seen them play and win good games, and tonight they just didn’t want to play. They weren’t with it.”
Hampton right fielder Corrina Harrell gunned down a runner for the third out of the second, when she connected with third baseman Dani Guinn. Harrell cut down another Junior Buc in the fourth, hooking up with catcher Maggie Burchett.
“They’re going to have to come out tomorrow and want the game,” Doss said of his players. “If they don’t want it, they won’t win. They can do it. They’ve got to want the game.”
Hampton 000 00 — 0 4 4
UH 309 0x — 12 15 0
Crabtree and M. Burchett. Faulkner and Bright. W—Faulkner. L—Crabtree.
North Greene 200 000 0 — 2 4 1
Unaka 010 000 0 — 1 3 0
Taylor and Bailey. L. Colbaugh and J. Matheson. W—Taylor. L—Colbaugh. HRs—North Greene: French.