Lady Rangers survive another close call with Highlanders

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR STAFF
mbirchfield@starhq.com

   As if the first time around with Cloudland wasn't tough enough for the Lady Rangers, the second meeting became even more difficult on Wednesday.
   It took Unaka nine innings of action before finally slipping past the Lady 'Landers with 5-4 final in Roan Mountain.
   Cloudland trailed 4-0 after three innings, but the 'Landers came back by getting the bat on the ball, and nearly upset the number one team in their conference.
   "They wanted it worse than we did, so we were lucky to get it," said Unaka coach Ronnie Hicks. "We had been hitting the ball so well, and in the last two games we've just been plunking it to the infield. Give them credit -- they wanted to beat us and tried, and we were fortunate to win."
   A grounder from Megan Heaton in the ninth frame got past the short-stop to drive in the game-winning run, scored by Jessica Moffitt.
   "We took Cloudland lightly, and we didn't think they wanted it that bad, but we finally realized we needed this win," Heaton said. "It would have meant a lot to them if they would have. When they came back and tied us it really shocked us and probably took the breath out of most of us, but after that we finally realized it was game time."
   The Rangers jumped out to a 4-0 lead after the third frame, when they capitalize from a couple of walks and errors made by the 'Landers.
   Unaka managed to get a double from Amy Colbaugh the inning prior, but was unsuccessful in bringing the runner home.
   The first two batters received walks in the top of the third, and a double down the right-field line by Jessica Moffitt brought both Sallee Taylor and Kelly Allen to the plate.
   A sacrifice fly to right field by Heaton drove in Jessica Moffitt, and a throw from the catcher that got past the third-baseman allowed Kristi Moffitt to score.
   After the third frame the Rangers led 4-0, and it appeared that Cloudland's chances of winning were nearly eliminated, but as the old saying goes, "it's not over until the fat lady sings."
   The 'Landers were able to accomplish something in the fourth frame that they didn't achieve success in the first matchup, which was put runs on the board.
   "I think they played a better game than we did, and they got the bat on the ball better than us, so all the credit goes to them," Hicks said. "We're lucky we didn't break and come out of it with a win. This district could become a very tight one, but hopefully with a little rest our bats will come back alive and just maybe we'll get hotter and things going again."
   An infield hit from Jessica Ledford brought home Daranda Byrd to cut the deficit to being three runs behind.
   The margin shrunk down to just one run trailing after the fifth frame, when the 'Landers took advantage of the first two hitters receiving walks.
   A groundout from Byrd brought the first run to the plate, with Nikki Carrow scoring, and a line-drive to right field by Jamie Icenhour sent Nicole Cantrell home.
   Cloudland kept the momentum going through the sixth frame, when Tryphena Denton ripped a hit up the middle to lead off the inning.
   Ledford stepped up to drive in her second RBI of the contest, when she smacked a hit down the right-field line, which bounced off the right-fielder's glove to score Denton.
   "I knew our team was suffering," said Ledford. "We were playing good both infield and outfield, so I just thought I should come out and hit to try to bring our team back," said Ledford. "This is a disappointment, but we're happy that we have eight wins so far, because that's the most we've ever had, so we're real happy with that."
   Cloudland had climbed back from being down and out to nearly taking total control of the contest.
   After the regular scheduled seven innings of play, the game was tied at 4-4 with both teams scrapping to pull off the victory.
   "I thought we outhit them again, and I thought we played and pitched well enough against them to win," said Cloudland coach Gary Keith. "If we pitch pretty good and throw strikes then we're usually in the game, and both games we played well against Unaka."
   A near-run scored when Colbaugh came home on a hit from Danielle Williams, which rolled to the pitcher's mound. Cloudland's pitcher Kayla Blevins had trouble in picking up the ball and making the throw to first base, so she elected to go home, with catcher making the tag for the final out.
   The 'Landers' opportunity to score in the last three frames dwindled, as Ranger pitcher Ryann Musick was starting to find her groove.
   Musick had struggled during the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings, but her last three were the strongest she had pitched all game long.
   "I thought the girl from Unaka bore down in the last innings -- she pitched the best she had all game," said Keith. "We were hitting the ball until those last three innings, but the errors in both the fourth and last innings hurt us."
   Six of her strikeouts came in the last three frames, and a combined total of 14 were pitched through the entire nine innings.
   After receiving the go-ahead run by Unaka in the top of the ninth, Musick closed out the game by fanning all three Cloudland hitters in the bottom of the final frame.
   "I don't know if I got nervous or what," Musick said. "I wasn't throwing it just right, but there at the end I got the feeling back and everybody got excited, so it helped when everyone got their heads up. Whenever your team gets behind you, and they get excited then it makes you excited and you do better."