Lady Rangers subdue Central

By Travis Brown
STAR Staff

   With pre-season expectations set at a modest level, the 2003 Unaka Lady Rangers have raised the bar to new heights. The Rangers cleared yet another hurdle Friday with a solid 9-4 victory over the Sullivan Central Lady Cougars.
   Ranger head coach Ronnie Hicks has been impressed with his team's performance to this point in the season and hopes the success will continue.
   "I'm real pleased with the way we've progressed," Hicks said. "I've raised my expectations, I think we can continue to get better."
   After defeating the Cougars 4-1 in an early-season matchup, the Rangers were digging in for a tough contest with Sullivan Central without the help of starting shortstop Jessica Moffitt.
   Freshman Brittany Taylor stepped in to perform admirably for the Rangers, going 2-for-4 and playing solidly defensively.
   The Cougars would come out clawing in the top half of the first inning, as a single by leadoff hitter Bethany Haney put a runner in scoring position after a fielding miscue.
   Sarah Stone would later single to bring home the run, and the Cougars took an early 1-0 lead.
   The Rangers were silenced in the home half of the first thanks to a double play by the Cougars. However, they drew even in the bottom half of the second.
   Julie Roberson's leadoff double translated into a score, as a wild pitch and a passed ball allowed Roberson to score pulling the contest even at 1-1.
   In the third inning, Central again relied on Haney to take command. A leadoff double by the shortstop put a runner in scoring position, and she would score three hitters later on a single by Caitie Munal to pull the Cougars ahead 2-1.
   Ballgames are won by big innings and the Rangers responded to the Cougar threat by stringing together a pair of offensive spurts.
   Three hits and a Cougar fielding error allowed three Rangers to cross the plate in the third, while a five-run output was recorded in the fourth.
   The Rangers ripped four hits, and were the beneficiary of two additional Cougar errors to take a commanding 9-3 lead. All of the Ranger's nine runs were unearned in the contest. However, the Rangers made a habit of capitalizing on Cougar mistakes.
   "I'm amazed with how well we hit the ball," Hicks said. "We knew they would be a better team this time, and to have the lineup we did is great."
   After the fourth the Ranger bats fell silent as Unaka could not cross the dish for the remainder of the game. Meanwhile, the Cougars were finding some success at the plate, but too little too late.
   Baserunners in the fifth and seventh were squandered while scoring a lone run in the sixth. Despite the impressive relief performance by Haney, the Cougars were too far behind and fell to the Lady Rangers, 9-4.
   The game marks a continued improvement of the youthful Ranger squad. Hicks hopes that his team will stay on track towards the tournaments while emphasis remains on the fundamentals.
   "Right now it's just teaching," Hicks said. "Before the season if I knew we would be 8-5, I would have been pleased. We have to keep working, and try to get better before tournament time."
   The Rangers will face another set of tests next week as Volunteer and Elizabethton grace the schedule.