Swearingen hurls Rangers past CHS

By Wes Holtsclaw

   AC/DC did a song about Randy Swearingen's performance Thursday afternoon, not knowing it 11 years before. Swearingen's 11 strikeouts left the Cloudland Highlanders "Thunderstruck" as the Unaka Rangers took a 5-1 Watauga Valley Conference victory at Joe O'Brien Field.
   "He's been pretty solid for us," Ranger coach Mike Ensor said of Swearingen's performance. "He took a tough-luck loss Saturday against Powell Valley, Virginia. Of course that was at Tennessee High, and they've got a short porch."
   "My defense helped me out a lot," said Swearingen. "My offense did, too. It was just a team effort today."
   Cloudland came out in the first inning behind leadoff Mark Byrd's triple. Byrd brought in the Highlanders' lone run of the day after scoring on a Caleb Denton single.
   Unaka delivered in the first inning after Aaron Dugger stole his way across the bases to home plate, tying the score at 1-1 after a wild pitch from Byrd.
   The Rangers scored in the second inning after a David Perry double, when Cody Collins hammered in the left fielder. Rusty Chambers scored for Unaka in the third inning after stealing three bases and taking home after another wild pitch from Byrd.
   Cloudland had some tough luck behind the bats on the day, leaving players on base for the most part. Dale Baker and Clint Steiner made some big hitting plays early for Cloudland, but couldn't capitalize on the scoreboard.
   Errors hurt the Highlander defense for the day, as they played a big key for on base performance from Unaka.
   The Rangers scored in the fourth inning behind Perry again, as Dugger brought him in with a double. It was a great hitting day for Dugger, who brought in the final Ranger run in the sixth inning, Jeremy Cook, with a triple.
   Said Dugger: "Today, it was a good win. We wanted a jump on them because we figured Cloudland and University High would be top notch in the conference. We hit it good in spells. We left some runners on, but we played well overall."
   Cloudland got another hit from Byrd in the sixth inning, but were ousted by Swearingen's pitching.
   Unaka was down as well somewhat in the latter part of the game, as Caleb Denton came in and delivered five strikeouts for Cloudland in his four-inning spell. However, Unaka would have the better day, taking the win from Cloudland.
   Said Ensor: "I think our bats are kind of coming around for us a little bit. We had nine hits on the day, and put the ball in play for the most part, if we'll do that, then we'll be pretty fine. Because we're going to play pretty decent defense and the catching's been solid."
   "We played a good, well-coached ball team," said Cloudland coach Jeff Bradley. "They're the team to beat. Even though they are a good team, I felt like we gave the game away. We played pretty pathetic, probably the worst showing I've seen us give all year. Our pitchers didn't look too bad, we just didn't care to win, and we didn't get after it."
   Swearingen sat down three batters in three different occasions during his pitching run, and took the win over Byrd in his complete game.
   Byrd only allowed three hits and three runs in his outing, but took the loss as his team was down when he exited the game. Denton dealt Unaka five hits and two runs in his fill-in performance. Three errors plagued his finish for Cloudland.
   Cloudland combined to grab four hits in the game with their lone run.
   Unaka will take the field Saturday afternoon against the Happy Valley Warriors for a 1 p.m. showtime at Cannon-Gouge Memorial Park. Cloudland visits University High next Thursday.