Late rally lifts Rangers over Highlanders

By Tim Chambers

   Cloudland was on the verge of springing a huge upset Friday afternoon at Claude Holsclaw Field, but Unaka would have no part of it. Trailing 6-4 in the bottom of the sixth, the Rangers rallied for three runs in their next two at-bats to knock off the Highlanders 6-4 in a Watauga Valley Conference showdown.
   "We're not playing with any type of enthusiasm right now," stated Unaka head coach Acie Ensor. "You got to do more than show up to win baseball games."
   The Highlanders collected four hits off Ranger pitcher Chad Lewis in the first. Mark Byrd led off with a single, but Lewis managed to strike out the next two batters.
   Clint Steiner laced a single, scoring Byrd, and Dave Holden and Aaron Stocton collected hits to score Steiner, giving Cloudland a 2-0 lead.
   Cloudland took a 3-0 lead in the third as Dakota Benfield walked and later scored on a single by Steiner. The Rangers managed a single run in the third when Lewis banged out a base hit and eventually came home on a base hit by Randy Swearingen, slicing the lead at 3-1.
   The Rangers tied the score with two runs in the fourth, but poor baserunning hurt any chances of taking a big lead. Six singles, one each by Travis Pasquale, Ryan Bowers, Terry Tabor, Cody Collins, Tee Blevins and Chad Lewis tied the score, but three outs on the bases probably cost Unaka two or three more.
   The Highlanders took a 5-3 advantage off Unaka reliever Swearingen as the lefty issued four walks in the inning. Holden's single was the only hit in the frame as Cloudland left the bases juiced.
   Unaka came alive in the bottom half of the sixth. Tabor lined a double to left, followed by another from Collins.
   Collins was tagged out on a grounder by Blevins. Rusty Chambers roped a double down the right-field line, scoring Blevins to tie the score at 5-5. Byrd then entered the game to get the third out, leaving Chambers stranded at third.
   Swearingen made quick work of the 'Landers in the seventh with two strikeouts and a pop-up to the catcher. The Rangers used their version of small ball in their final at-bat to record the win. An error allowed Huskins to reach first to start the inning, then Pasquale's attempted sacrifice went for a base hit after a perfect bunt, as did Ryan Bowers on the next at-bat.
   With the bases loaded, Tabor wasted no time lining a fast ball to left, scoring Huskins for the winning run.
   "I know my role on the team," said Tabor. "I need to be ready to hit when called upon."
   Tabor was 3 for 3 on the day.
   Collins continued to sizzle, going 4-for-4 on the day.
   "I'm seeing the ball very well," said Collins. "It will take a few weeks but we'll come around."
   Lewis, Pasquale and Swearingen collected two hits each to aid the cause.
   Stiner banged out two hits for the Highlanders as did Holden.
   Swearingen picked up the win in relief while Byrd absorbed the loss.
   "Our youth and inexperience caught up with us in the end," said Highlander skipper Robby Turbyfill. "To beat a team like Unaka, you can't make many mistakes."
   Added Ensor: "It's time to get them ready for baseball. You won't win many games making the mistakes we did today."