Unaka hoping young players meet challenge

By Marvin Birchfield

STAR CORRESPONDENT
mbirchfield@starhq.com

   After making it to the Region 1-A championship game last season, Unaka the Rangers will attempt to produce the same kind of results, but first they must take care of business in their own conference with a little less experience.
   "We lost a lot of good players last year, but first things first. We have some good players back, and some young kids stepping up," said Unaka coach Mike Ensor.
   Unaka has already started out of the blocks slow by not getting to practice, but hopefully their field will be ready soon, so they can work on the areas needed.
   "Our field isn't quite ready yet, and hopefully it will be ready enough so that we can practice in the next day or so, because we haven't even had a full practice yet," said Ensor.
   Another hindrance to the ballclub has been the fact that the guys who play basketball are just now coming on board.
   "The guys who play basketball didn't come out until last Friday, so they haven't had a round of infield except for a scrimmage we had at Crockett, and we even got there late," said Ensor.
   The Rangers played their first game of the season on Tuesday against Happy Valley, and the lack of practice showed in their 16-5 loss.
   "We didn't do anything that I think we can't fix. We made a few errors and walked some people, but for the most part our pitchers are going to throw strikes," said Ensor.
   Unaka is still short a few guys in their line-up, with senior Chris Arnold out with an illness in the family, and Daniel McInturff trying to recover from a knee injury.
   "Chris has started for us at first-base for three years, and he's been out dealing with some personal issues in his family, and now he's done something to his wrist," said Ensor.
   McInturff started part of the season last year in the outfield, but he still questionable right now even though he's got the OK from his doctor to play.
   "Daniel started in right field last year, and he hit and pitched the ball well, but it's still a question of how his knee is going to respond," Ensor said. "We need to get him back into the line-up.".
   One of the big hitters for Unaka this season will be junior Rusty Chambers, who's led Unaka at the plate for the past several years.
   "This is Rusty's third year now, and he's led the conference or basically up in the top five, so he's going to hit the ball for us," said Ensor.
   There are several players who can make contact on the ball, and Ensor seems confident that time will pretty much take care of itself.
   "We've got a team that's fairly athletic, and I think we have a team that's going to hit the ball, but we're just have to throw strikes and play good defense," said Ensor.
   The one advantage that Unaka has going for them is the fact of having a lot of kids that know what's expected of them.
   "Our strongest position is probably our depth," Ensor said. "We have 16 or 17 kids that can play, but with being faced with that situation is tough for both the coach and the kids."
   Not everyone is going to get the chance to compete with so much close talent, so there has to be some kind of adaptation among the young guys to make their part of the contribution.
   "Some of them are going to have to accept their role, and do what they are called upon to do, and sometimes that's harder to do than if your a starter," said Ensor.
   It's going to be tough in getting people to respond to their specialized job, but with the talent the Rangers posses they should do just fine.
   "You ask a kid to come in to hit, then I expect to do so, but sometimes it's hard when they haven't played in a couple of days, but we have enough talent to do those things," said Ensor.
   Pitching is still the key, when it comes to winning games, and Ensor feels like they have the bull-pin to get the job done.
   "We're going to have five or six kids that are going to start as pitchers for us, and then we'll have other people come in to relieve and get us an out when needed," said Ensor.
   The depth of the Rangers could be vital when it comes to postseason play, and Unaka needs all the help they can get for their chance of winning the conference.
   "Our conference is stacked, and there's only four team in it, but any team in it is capable of winning it," said Ensor.
   The only troublesome spot the Rangers will be faced with is the inexperience, especially in the out-field position.
   "We lost Arron Dugger who was all-state two years and all-conference four years in a row, plus we lost Jeremy McCann and David Perry, so our outfield is a little inexperienced right now," said Ensor.
   Ensor has already converted Cody Collins to the outfield position and even though there's not a lot of experience, the Rangers are athletic enough to overcome the odds.
   "It's just going to be the issue of getting a lot of reps in, and we're going to have to make some mistakes to get better at it," said Ensor.