Unaka goes eight innings to thwart Lady Junior Bucs

By Marvin Birchfield

   After struggling to capture a defeat over University High last season, the Lady Rangers finally got over the hump by knocking off the Lady Jr. Bucs in a 2-0 final on Wednesday.
   It took Unaka eight innings before it executed, as neither team gave up a run through the first seven frames, which became what some might say a classic pitching duel.
   With the international rule going into effect, when the score is tied at the end of the regular innings, the Rangers brought in two runs to decide the contest.
   "We had a chance to keep it out of the tie-breaker, but we couldn't lay the bunt down in the first inning with a runner at third," said Unaka coach Ronnie Hicks. "We had two times that we could have advance runners with bunts but couldn't do it, which is a weak part of our game right now.
   "We're more mature right now though, and we sacrificed last for this one and it worked -- we're a better ball team."
   It was University High's Cori McVeigh, who was matched against Unaka's Ryann Musick with the exception of a little twist.
   After the first two innings, the Rangers brought senior Danielle Williams to the mound for the next two frames in attempt to keep the Jr. Bucs guessing.
   "The logic is we've got Dani, who throws hard and doesn't walk anybody, and we have Musick, who has all these off speed stuff, which we was trying to keep them off balance," said Hicks. "I think it worked. We can't do worse than tie now, and he's got to come to our place now, so when he does we might just throw five pitchers at them then, a different one every inning if I can recruit enough."
   The plan worked to perfection, as the Rangers gave up just two hits from both pitchers combined.
   "It threw them off pretty good, and we'll probably do it again since it worked so good on them," said Williams. "This was our game and I was wanting to get them back, and take it back to Stoney Creek this year.
   "We had some trouble last year not playing together as a team, but this year we are a team and have gotten a whole lot better."
   On the other side of the fence, McVeigh did her job by giving up just three hits through eight innings of play, along with retiring 12 batters with strikeouts.
   The Rangers let an opportunity slip in the first frame, when Jessica Moffitt smacked a triple in left field with one out.
   McVeigh struck out the next hitter, and a call that Moffitt left the bag on third-base before the pitch was thrown, first-baseman Julie Roberson resulted in Unaka's third out of the inning.
   Roberson got to lead off in the top of the second, but the Bucs escaped the frame by striking out the last two hitters.
   Unaka had runners on third base during the third and sixth frames, but McVeigh always found a way to bail the Bucs out by throwing strikes.
   The two hits on the evening for University High came from Torey Crane with a grounder down the first-base line and a shot to right field.
   With a runner on first base in the bottom of the second, a ground-out from Megan Backers pushed Crane over to second base, but a call from the umpire stated the pitch to Backers was illegal.
   Coach Hicks stormed out on the field to question the decision as the hitter got to go back to the plate for another try, the runner got to keep second-base, and Hicks was made to hang out in the dugout for the remainder of the game.
   "He said her toe wasn't on the rubber when she released the ball, which it doesn't have to be -- it just has to be in the dirt," said Hicks. "I said, 'That's a pretty picky call to make right now, and he restricted me to the dugout.'"
   The Bucs were unable to advance runners, as a stiff defense by the Rangers kept them from reaching third-base with the exception of the last inning, with a runner already starting off on second.
   Both teams had committed errors during the first seven frames, but none of the mistakes had ended up costing either team.
   Finally, in the eighth frame, the Rangers got the break they were looking for when McVeigh struck the first two hitters with a pitch to load the bases.
   "Both teams played a great game, and it's unfortunate in the eighth inning. We got a couple of bad breaks and they scored a couple of runs, which is the game," said University High coach Josh Petty. "Cori did great and it's probably one of the best games she's pitched -- she threw hard and did what she had to do.
   "I knew it was going to be a tough game, and the first one to make a mistake is probably going to lose the game, and unfortunately it was us."
   McVeigh had a strong showing the prior inning by striking out all three hitters she faced, but the uncharacteristic mistakes would be a haunting.
   Unaka put Amy Colbaugh on second base with the international rule going into effect, as the game-winning run rested at third with Jessica Moffitt coming up to bat.
   Moffitt redeemed herself from the mistake in the first inning by hitting a single into center field to score Colbaugh.
   "We've been really working hard on our hitting every practice, and I started off the season really bad but have been working at it, so I'm excited about that," said Moffitt. "We're playing good defense and the teams getting along better this year and everybody's loving each other.
   "We're working as a team instead of individuals, and we got 'er done."
   The Rangers added another score when Brittany Taylor hit a sacrifice fly to left, bringing home Kelly Allen.
   University High had one last chance to make a rally, and an error at shortstop loaded the bases with two outs.
   Unaka made the final out of the contest with the next hitter, as a pop up to a charging Musick sealed the victory for the Rangers, giving them the edge in the Watauga Valley Conference.
   "We wanted this one bad, and the coach did all he could for us, even when he got threw out of the game -- he did all he could and cheered us on," said Musick. "This gives us momentum now, and everybody is so excited.
   "We have a lot of community pride and something like this brings us closer together now. My catcher did a great job behind the plate again, and everybody did so well I'm proud of them."