Rangers sew up conference title

By Tim Chambers

   To quote the famous Mr. Rogers, "It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood" for baseball in downtown Roan Mountain, with Unaka and Cloudland doing battle with the Watauga Valley Conference championship on the line.
   The Highlanders hung tough the entire afternoon but fell short in the end, 10-4 before a good crowd at the Highlander field.
   Give credit to Coach Turbyfill and his team for the good job they did today," said Unaka head coach Mike "Acie" Ensor. "He has worked hard and it really shows in the play of his team."
   Unaka jumped on top in the first inning after Cody Collins reached on an error while Chad Lewis scorched a double off the right center-field wall to plate Collins. Rusty Chambers followed suit with another double to score Lewis for a 2-0 lead.
   "We played well enough to win," stated Lewis. "We still need to work on some things that will make us a better team."
   Chambers stole third one batter later and came home on a throwing error tying to get Tee Blevins, who had walked, at second. The Rangers added another run in the second after Collins walked and Daniel McInturff singled. Lewis drilled a single to left, scoring Collins for a 4-0 advantage.
   Cloudland rallied for a single run in the second inning, thanks to three singles from Clint Steiner, Dane Christman and Nick Winchester to cut the lead at 4-1. McInturff was able to get the next batter to strike out, ending the Highlander scoring threat.
   Holden used a steady mixture of breaking balls to keep the Rangers off balanced, but was aided by two great defensive plays in the fourth -- one a diving stop by Steiner on a Lewis line drive and Stocton leaping high in the air to snare a line shot off the bat of Chambers with men aboard.
   Unaka's lead grew to 5-1 after Travis Pasquale roped a double to left and later scored on a groundout by Brent Huskins.
   "I believe we are starting to get it going as a team," added Pasquale. "We still have some kinks to work out."
   The Highlanders tallied a solo run in the third after Mark Byrd laid down a perfect bunt for a single and advanced to second on a throwing error.
   A single by Dave Holden brought home Byrd, which cut the margin to 5-2. Unaka added another run in the fifth when Ryan Bowers walked and moved to third on an error. A line-drive single by Collins scored Bowers for a 6-2 lead.
   Cloudland added another run in the fifth on singles from Byrd and Christman sandwiched in between a Ranger error, slicing the margin at 6-3.
   Unaka used the long ball to up the margin in the sixthn when Chambers sent a breaking ball well upon the bank in right field for a solo home run, and Pasquale followed one batter later with another 'tater over the batting cage in left center field for a 8-3 lead.
   Cloudland got a single run in the sixth when Byrd jacked a fastball over the right center-field fence for a home run, cutting the margin at 8-4.
   Unaka got two insurance runs in the seventh when Collins reached on an error and Lewis was safe on a fielder's choice. Chambers drilled a single to right, giving Unaka a 10-4 advantage.
   Lewis pitched a scoreless seventh to preserve the win. McInturff earned the win scattering nine hits, while striking out 10 batters on the day.
   "I didn't have my best stuff today," said McInturff. "My curve wasn't sharp so I had to throw a lot of fastballs, and they made me pay a few times."
   Chambers banged out three hits while adding four RBIs to lead the Unaka offense, while Lewis and Pasquale added two hits each. Lewis added two RBI's on the day.
   "We wanted to clinch the conference championship," added Chambers. "Our goal is the state tournament in Memphis. We played good at times but so did Cloudland. Coach Turbyfill had done a good job with his team."
   Bowers reached base safely four times on walks while McInturff and Collins managed three trips on the base-paths, each collecting a single and two walks.
   Byrd had a banner day with three hits while Christman added two more to lead the Highlanders. Holden and Stocton chipped in with one hit each.
   "We have been so close several times," added Byrd. "We've lost eight games by one run."
   "Unaka has a great team," stated Cloudland head coach Robbie Turbyfill. "Rusty, Chad and those guys hit the ball hard. I was proud of our team today for the effort they gave. If we could have eliminated a few errors, we might have made it a game.
   "It's heartbreaking when you have lost eight games by one run and four more by two."
   Added Ensor: "I was pleased with the effort of Daniel on the mound, and we hit the ball hard today off a type of pitcher that has given us trouble in the past. We just want to keep getting better with tournament time approaching."