Late flourish edges Unaka past Bulldogs

By Wes Holtsclaw

   The Hampton Bulldogs came with a blazing fury, but the Unaka Rangers extinguished the flame.
   After a destructive sixth inning, the Hampton Bulldogs were exactly where they wanted to be, taking the 4-1 lead going into the top of the seventh.
   But the Unaka Rangers bit back where the 'Dogs least expected and pulled a comeback to send the game into the eighth inning, where they would take the 5-4 victory at Hampton's baseball field Monday afternoon.
   "We had too many lost opportunities on the bases early today; too many bonehead running plays," said Unaka coach Mike Ensor. "It didn't come back to bite us, it should have. We've gotta quit waiting until the seventh inning to play."
   "We hit it hard all day, hit it right at people and I knew if we'd keep hitting it hard, they'd fall. Randy (Swearingen) threw a great ballgame. We needed a good win, this was a good win. Hampton's not a bad baseball team."
   Said Bulldog skipper Scotty Bunton: "We didn't play well enough to win. We stayed ahead most of the time, we just didn't make the plays on defense."
   "They hung in there and hit it when they had too. I thought when he brought in the pinch hitter right there in the end, which got them started. They didn't have a hit up till then, I thought that was a good coaching move on his part. They put it together right there at the end and did a good job."
   Unaka opened up the game behind the bats, and didn't fair too well. Rusty Chambers was the only Ranger to grab a base with his walk, as the other three batters flew out.
   Hampton had better luck, as Eric Swain grabbed a quick single for the Bulldogs, soon garnering the first score from a Kevin Harrison RBI single as Hampton took the quick 1-0 lead.
   Both teams went hitless in the second inning, as good pitching from both sides -- Swearingen from Unaka and Swain from Hampton -- took over early.
   Unaka finally had some luck in the third inning as Aaron Dugger grabbed a base from an error by Daniel Carden. Dugger scored as a wild throw allowed him to take two bags and tie the game at 1-1.
   Neither team found the fire they wanted until the fifth inning, when Hampton scored after a fielder's choice dealt Josh Moss his bag and brought Dustin Crumley home for the score, making it 2-1 Hampton.
   The 'Dawg defense sat three down in the sixth inning, as Ryan Deskins and Robby England scored off a pair of RBI singles from England and Crumley, taking the 4-1 lead going into the seventh inning.
   Unaka wouldn't let up, as Terry Tabor stepped up and delivered a key single, followed up by a RBI double from David Perry, bringing the Rangers one step closer.
   Added Ensor: "Had some role-players step in and do their job. Had good kids coming in running, Cody (Collins) and Thomas (Guess) ran well. Terry Tabor came in and got a great pinch base hit, which was big, that started the inning off for us."
   Dugger singled in Perry, and a sacrifice fly from Chambers brought in Dugger to tie the game at 4-4, with Hampton taking one more shot in the regular game.
   The Bulldogs wouldn't make the cut, as Swearingen and his defense sent the game into an extra inning.
   Unaka would be fired up going in, and struck early as Chad Lewis yanked a huge double into center field, giving the Rangers a player in scoring position. A fielder's choice play from Perry brought in Lewis to take the 5-4 lead over the Bulldogs.
   Said Ensor: "Chad Lewis, he swings through a take sign and gets a double. I told him he was going to have to run extra for swinging through the take sign, but I loved the double. Can't take that away from the kid. But we played hard and that's the main thing."
   Hampton would have one more chance late in the eighth, but two straight plays from Swearingen to Chris Arnold and a strikeout sealed the deal for Unaka.
   It was a good game overall for both teams, including the pitchers Swearingen and Swain, who both threw complete games.
   Said Bunton: "I got a good outing out of the pitcher (Swain), I was proud of him. He threw real well for me. He's young and small and I was tickled to death with him."
   Hampton tackles Elizabethton at home this afternoon. Game time is at 4.