Unaka should continue on winning path

By Ivan Sanders
STAR CORRESPONDENT
isanders@starhq.com

   Coach Mike Ensor has been a magnet of success in his tenure as Unaka High School baseball coach. This year should be no different.
   Ensor enters his fourth season of competition with an outstanding ledger of 75-26, not including a 2-1 start this season.
   "We have had great kids here since I've been here," stated Ensor. "This year isn't any different."
   Most high school coaches would be envious of another coach who could comfortably say he had 15 pitchers who can throw strikes. Unaka has that luxury this season.
   "I think this is the deepest pitching staff that I have had," said Ensor. "We've played three games and have used six different pitchers who have all thrown pretty well."
   The number one and two slots are a toss-up between senior Ben Cole and freshman Randy Swearingen, who both have picked up victories off the hill thus far.
   Sophomore Rusty Chambers is the number three guy and sophomore Ryan Bowers is the fourth man in the rotation. Throw into the mix Jeremy Cook, Chad Lewis, Terry Tabor, Brent Huskins, Daniel McInturff, Jeremy McCann and Aaron Dugger and one can see the buffet bar of pitchers that Ensor has to pick from.
   From the offensive side of the plate, Unaka has a smorgasbord of talent on the 2002 edition of the Rangers.
   Dugger, who batted .500 last season, has a knack for always getting on base. Tabor has been the biggest surprise to date as he is leading the team in hitting with 9 RBIs.
   Chambers brings some pop to the plate with his bat while Bowers is the type of kid who eats, sleeps and walks baseball by staying on the field and in the hitting cage daily working on his swing.
   Others who will be counted on to produce from the plate include McCann, Lewis, Cole, and Cook.
   Ensor also has a bevy of role players who will be counted upon to make some noise in the Ranger line-up this season.
   Freshman Brent Huskins is a catcher who has been a pleasant surprise thus far for the Rangers. David Perry and Thomas Guess are players that will be counted on in defensive situations to provide speed and a good glove. They also could add a hit or two if needed.
   Josh Blevins and Chris Arnold are two other prime candidates who need to do some catching up from basketball, but will be looked at for providing quality innings on the diamond.
   Aside from having some great players, Ensor feels he has been blessed to have great coaches to assist him. These men are volunteers who receive no pay for the position.
   Said Ensor: "Steve Long has been with me since I started here and his on-field knowledge is absolutely remarkable. Mike Hardin joins us this season from a great program and he is very knowledgeable of the game as well. These guys love the game and the kids."
   Ensor sees Cloudland as a program that will be tough to handle this season due to their success they have experienced in other sports this season.
   University High probably has the best pitcher and hitter in Drew Harrell while North Greene won't be a slouch, either. The league looks to pan out as a fairly equal affair this season.
   "We have the ability to be anywhere from middle-of-the-road to good," said Ensor. "It all depends upon how we come together and how quick that happens."
   The weakness that Ensor sees with this team is learning how to communicate with each other so each player will be on the same page.
   Also, Ensor feels his team needs to learn how to play solid from start to finish.
   "Last season we would play five good innings of baseball and then disappear for a couple of innings," said Ensor. "If we can eliminate that type of mentality, we have a chance at winning every game we play."
   The key to the success of the Ranger program this year hinges upon a factor of time. Several players came directly from basketball into a live baseball game within a day or two of returning from Murfreesboro.
   Added Ensor: "We just need to get our arms in shape throwing wise and get the timing down on our swing. Missing a lot of practice time together hurt, but if the team can develop a good chemistry we will be just fine."
   Unaka should feed off the success of the basketball program and have an outstanding year on the diamond. The team is loaded with young men who have played ball since they could hold a bat.
   It should most definitely be a fun year for baseball at Unaka. Nothing could be sweeter than crowning a new field, slated to be built next year, with a 2002 state championship baseball trophy.