Rangers reap revenge on 'Landers

By Wes Holtsclaw

   After a big conference victory over University High on Tuesday, the Unaka Rangers were aiming to not let down Wednesday afternoon against the Cloudland Highlanders.
   Behind solid pitching from freshman Tee Blevins and an array of offense, the Rangers won their second straight outing at Holsclaw Field with an 8-1 conference decision.
   "It was a big conference win," said Unaka coach Mike Ensor. "One thing I tried to stress after our win against UH is that we've got to guard the letdown against Cloudland."
   Ensor credits a tough schedule and good preparation for his squad's success against conference opponents this year.
   "It's the reason we play the bigger schools," said Ensor. "We play them to get better for the conference and the tournament down the road. It makes us a better team in the end."
   Cloudland only grabbed two hits in the first three innings, courtesy of a Mark Byrd double and a Josh Johnson single. The Rangers, however, came swinging.
   Despite three strikeouts in the first inning from Byrd, Unaka got two runs after a Thomas Guess single and a Rusty Chambers RBI double. Chambers stole his way around the bases to give the Rangers the 2-0 nod.
   Chris Arnold drove in Daniel McInturff and Cody Collins on a single during the second inning, pulling the Rangers to a 4-0 lead.
   Cloudland got on board in the fourth inning after a David Holden single and an Aaron Stocton RBI shot into the left field.
   Unaka roared right back in the fifth inning with RBI doubles from Randy Swearingen and Daniel McInturff. A Guess single drove in two more runs giving Unaka the 8-1 advantage.
   Blevins tossed nine strikeouts and only allowed five hits against Cloudland. He took the victory over the 'Landers' Mark Byrd who tossed eight strikeouts of his own.
   "Tee's only had two starts against Tennessee High and David Crockett," Ensor said. "He's a freshman and he's throwing well for us. We threw him against those teams to get him ready."
   "Chris Arnold is our only senior and he's been the best leader I've had," he said. "I was pleased with the little things today. Travis Pasquale, Willie Maupin, Tony Tabor all got in there late and it will help us down the road."
   "It weakens them defensively to pitch Byrd," he said. "But they are getting better and by the tournament, they'll be a handful."
   Thomas Guess led the Rangers hitting with a four of four outing, tallying a double, a run and two RBI's.
   "I think it puts us in a good position to win the conference," Guess said. "We've been playing well this year with hitting and solid defense behind it."
   It wasn't an impressive afternoon for the Cloudland Highlanders, who served five errors in the field against Unaka.
   "Byrd pitched good enough to keep us in the game," said 'Lander coach Robbie Turbyfill. "The little mistakes just add up. Unaka hits the ball well, they are a good team and they put the ball in play."
   "We're just going to have to decide whether we are going to play baseball or go home," he said. "It's up to the seniors to decide that. We've got a good enough team to compete if we play smart."