Lady Rangers strike late to clip Va. High

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR CORRESPONDENT
mbirchfield@starhq.com

   Thursday's softball battle between the Unaka and Virginia High was not decided until the final inning of play, with the Lady Rangers grabbing an 1-0 victory at Ronnie Hicks Field.
   Solid defense from both sides dictated the flow of the game, as there were few hits in the contest, but the one that counted came from Jessica Moffitt in the final frame.
   "This is what we've been looking for with consistency, and it is still not where we want it to be, but we did a lot better job of playing a smarter mental game," said Unaka coach Ronnie Hicks.
   Danielle Williams started out at the mound strong and continued to perform throughout the entire seven innings pitched.
   "This was one of our better games and I think we are finally starting to play up to our potential, so maybe we can start playing like we should," said Williams.
   Retiring the first two batters with strikeouts, Williams didn't give up hits until the fifth inning.
   "I had good pitching today. The defense was backing me up, and we didn't have as many errors as we have been making," said Williams.
   Unaka saw an opportunity in the bottom of the first slip away, when leadoff batter Kelly Allen reached base off an error at third.
   Allen made her way around to third base after Kristin Moffitt hit a groundout to the shortstop.
   With just one out and a runner on third, pitcher Megan Branson stepped up for the Bearcats by getting two consecutive strikeouts and escape the frame.
   "We had a chance to win the ball game before it ever got to the last inning, but my players are going to have to learn how to get more aggressive in the short game," said Hicks.
   Amber Woods connected on the first hit of the game for Unaka in the bottom of the second.
   A grounder to left field with two outs kept the Rangers' hopes of scoring alive, but Branson connected on one of her six strikeouts to turn back Unaka once again.
   Another opportunity went awry for the Lady Rangers in the fourth frame, after having two batters on base with no outs.
   A walk to Megan Heaton and a hit up the middle by Julie Roberson put the Rangers in position to grab the lead.
   Unaka had trouble in laying down the bunt at that point, and two strikeouts and a groundout from Williams eliminated the Rangers from scoring.
   "We didn't have any great hits, but some timely ones, and we blotched a couple of bunts, so we've got to work on that," said Hicks.
   Virginia High finally captured a hit in the fifth frame, when Branson hit a shot up the gut and made it to first base.
   The Ranger defense held by fielding two outs, and Williams retired the last batter with a strikeout swinging, giving her a total of six on the evening.
   In the sixth frame, the Bearcats tried to threaten again, as two hitters made it to base.
   A grounder to left field from Katie Pittman was the second hit of the contest, but this was the last hit that Williams allowed.
   Two great throws from catcher Emily Elliott created the last two outs for Unaka.
   First Elliott gunned down Pittman trying to reach second, and she did the same thing to Kristen Norman, who got on base after a throwing error was committed.
   The Ranger defense avoid the chance of the Bearcats scoring and was looking for someone to step up to the plate, after acquiring just two hits through the first six innings.
   "I got my three hitters together that were coming up, and I said you're coming up to hit and if we score a run we win, and somebody has to step up and do something," said Hicks.
   Jessica Moffitt had previously struggled from the plate, going 0-for-2 in her first two attempts at bat.
   When the game was on the line, though, she clearly answered the challenge, as the junior came up with the biggest hit of the game.
   "It felt great. It was the only hit I made tonight, and all I can say is our defense played really well today," said Jessica.
   A shot to right field enabled Moffitt to make her way to first base, and after an error in the outfield she kept on trucking in rounding the bases toward third.
   Virginia High made an attempt to throw her out at third base, but the ball sailed away and allowed Moffitt to come home, where she plowed through the Bearcat catcher to reach the plate and earn Unaka the victory.
   "I didn't really think I was going to make it all the way around, but the coach was telling me to go all the way, and we're improving so I think we'll start having a better outcome now," said Moffitt.