Lady Rangers dodge defeat

By Marvin Birchfield

   The District 1-A softball tournament swung into action on Monday as four of the area's teams battled it out in order to take one step toward laying claim to the title.
   The game of the evening matched the second-seeded Unaka Rangers against third-seeded North Greene.
   This contest was fought tooth and nail between the two teams, which went down to the wire with Unaka prevailing in a 7-6 final.
   "We tried to give it away and couldn't do it, but we just got lucky tonight," said Unaka coach Ronnie Hicks.
   The Rangers jumped out to an early lead in the first, as it looked like that this was their day to make a statement and close in on another championship.
   Lead-off batter Mandy Roberson started the offense with a bunt, and following her was a double to center field by Danielle Carr.
   The bases were loaded after a walk to Alesha Buckles, and the first run came when Jessica Moffitt lofted a sacrifice fly to right field, scoring Roberson.
   Julie Roberson made her contribution to the team, when she knocked a grounder to right field, driving home Carr and Buckles.
   The last run of the inning came off a misfielded ball in left field that enabled Julie Roberson to cross the plate.
   "I thought we hit the ball a lot better today," Hicks said. "We got on the pitching machine and slowed it down, and I thought that helped."
   After a dismal first inning for the Huskies, they responded in only allowing one run for the next three frames.
   It occurred in the third frame, when a fielder's choice from Julie Roberson scored Moffitt.
   The Rangers were impressive on defense in the beginning, as they held North Greene scoreless through the first four frames, only giving up two hits.
   A couple of great catches in the fourth were made in the outfield by Kelly Allen and Medora Carrier to end North Greene's chances of getting back in the hunt.
   It was Unaka's steel-curtain defense that had shut out the Huskies, and the Rangers were on cruise control all the way until the top of the fifth.
   This was the turning point of the game for North Greene.
   Carr threw her first walk of the night, to leadoff batter Sherry Wine, then a single and an error by Carr to third base loaded the bases for the Huskies with no outs made.
   North Greene captured its first score when Lindsey Evans hit a looping shot to shallow center field to bring home Wine.
   Another hit and score was made, forcing Hicks to make a decision on a pitching change with Danielle Williams.
   From there a fielder's choice by Lashanda Dunbar brought in Ashley Woods, closing the margin down to two runs.
   The contest became tied when Amy Conklin ripped a hit to right that scored Evans and Haley Williams.
   Back-to-back errors assisted the Huskies in a go-ahead run by Conklin, as the once unpenatrable defense had self-destructed by giving up four hits and committing three errors.
   "We maybe should have switched the pitchers a few batters earlier -- they had her timed -- but after that two routine plays gets us out of the inning, and we didn't make them," said Hicks.
   With North Greene clinging to a one-run lead in the fifth, it was the Huskies' turn to get bit by the bug on defense.
   A couple of errors in the outfield brought in Carr to tie the event at 6-6 heading into the sixth frame.
   It looked like neither team was going to score in the sixth, as North Greene went three and out and Unaka was faced with two outs with a runner on first.
   Allen came up to bat and connected on a single to shallow center, keeping the Ranger hopes alive in making a go-ahead run.
   Hicks decided on pulling his designated hitter, and gave Carrier her first chance at bat.
   The decision paid off as Carrier popped a hit into shallow right, which loaded the bases.
   The next decision made wasn't by Hicks. Instead it was by Carrier, who took off trying to steal second.
   This caused mass confusion in the infield and for the base runners as the classic game of cat and mouse was going on.
   In the meantime, while the Huskies were trying to get their final out to escape the inning, Kristen Morley made her way home to score the go-ahead run.
   "I did it on purpose," Carrier said. "I knew the runner on third base would run, and it's a good thing the run scored or I would have been killed."
   It wasn't exactly what the coach had intended on, but it darn sure worked as the Rangers took the lead for the final time to capture the win.
   "I just hope we can put a good game together. If we can win one like this, then if we play well we should be pretty tough," said Hicks.
   University High 11
   Cloudland 0
   University High entered the District 1-A Softball Tournament as the No. 1 seed, pitting the Lady Junior Bucs against the last-seeded Cloudland Highlanders.
   The Jr. Lady Bucs advanced on to the winners bracket, where they will meet Unaka, after posting an 11-0 victory at Ronnie Hicks field.
   "Cloudland played a really good game today, and they have improved a lot since the first of the season," said University High coach Josh Petty.
   After the first inning of play, the Bucs grabbed a 1-0 lead off of a single from Ashley Carson that scored Nina Reardon.
   In the top of the second, the 'Landers had a chance to score after an error was committed off a hit by Tonya Simerly, then Tara Melton dented a single to put runners on second and third base.
   University High escaped, though, by making three consecutive outs to deny Cloudland from getting on the board.
   "We played really good defense today -- we made only one error -- and got good pitching from Ashley Carson," said Petty.
   Two more runs were added for the Bucs in the bottom frame, when an error at second base and a walk with the bases loaded brought in Jessica McNutt and Cori Dodson.
   The margin increased to 5-0 after the third frame, when a single from Brittany Carson scored Renee Hoover, and a sacrifice fly by Duff Reardon drove in Dodson.
   The 'Landers hung tough throughout, but just quite couldn't get themselves in position after letting an opportunity to score slip away during the second inning.
   "I'm really proud of them today," said Cloudland coach Evangeline Hurter. "They fought hard, and hopefully we can do something tomorrow."
   Six more runs scored in the fourth, putting the Bucs in position to end the game on the ten-run rule.
   "We did a good job at the plate in waiting on pitches, and not swinging at the high balls," said Petty.
   Cloudland went three-and-out in the final frame, as University High pitcher Ashley Carson allowed only two hits and two walks on the evening.
   "I don't want this to be over any time soon, and I'm just working hard for my team in trying to be a leader," said Carson.
   It was also a solid performance from Cloudland freshman pitcher Deidra Stevens, who gave up just five hits.
   "We're really excited about our pitcher who pitched today -- she's really working hard and we're looking forward for her to come through for us," said Hurter.