Unicoi County gets past Happy Valley

By Ivan Sanders

   KINGSPORT -- Intimidation was not a factor in the opening game in the double-elimination round of the District 1-AA baseball tournament. Nor should it have been as the two teams squaring off have been rivals long before some of the other teams in the conference came on the scene.
   Unicoi County fought off a shaky start and prevailed over a determined bunch of Warriors from Happy Valley by the score of 5-0 at Hunter-Wright Stadium as the district championship tournament continued on Monday evening.
   "Those three errors were the key," stated Happy Valley head coach Greg Hyder. "Unicoi County played a solid game, and taking away the errors we did too. They did what it takes to win the game."
   The first inning of the contest was a quiet one for both sides as both pitchers made the pitches that allowed their defense to play behind them.
   Blue Devil pitcher Nick Garland faced the meat of the Warrior lineup and allowed only a single to right fielder Cody Whitlock in the inning before the Unicoi defense stepped up to retire the Warriors with little damage.
   Garland's counterpart, Michael Holmes of Happy Valley, worked a masterful one-two-three frame to give his club another hack at Garland. All three Blue Devil outs were pop flies that were easily handled by the Warrior fielders.
   Happy Valley threatened in the top of the second as Dan Back singled and was advanced on a walk to third baseman Ryan Toney of the Warriors. Senior Jon Harrison ripped a Garland pitch to center field that loaded the bases with two outs.
   Lamar Rollins worked the count to 2-1 before lofting one toward right field that was handled by Andrew Inman for the third out of the inning and a lost opportunity by the wayside for the Warriors.
   Holmes appeared ready to cruise through the Devils in the second getting two more quick outs before running into some control problems to walk Aaron Fender and Josh Williams on eight straight pitches. After launching a wild pitch that advanced the runners, Holmes received a visit from coach Greg Hyder that seemed to work.
   Holmes came back to strike out Daron Adkins to close the inning while stranding the two base runners. The scoreboard at Hunter Wright read 0-0 after two complete.
   The Warriors had another golden opportunity in the top of the third. Whitlock picked up his second infield single and advanced on a Garland wild pitch. Whitlock went to third on a Cody Cannon ground out to third, but was left stranded as Back hit a tough shot that was handled by the shortstop for out number three.
   Unicoi County finally broke through in their at-bat in the third. Darrel Roop drew a walk off Holmes and raced all the way around to third on a two-base throwing error by Holmes trying to pick Roop off.
   Garland picked Roop up on single to give the Blue Devils the 1-0 lead. Courtesy runner Anthony Garland attempted to steal second when Warrior catcher Cody Cannon threw the ball into center field allowing Garland to take third.
   Justin Benard and Marcus Longcrier drew a walk from Holmes to load the bases for Unicoi County. Designated hitter Aaron Fender made the Warrior hurler pay for the free passes as he drilled the first pitch from Holmes to the left field wall for a stand up double and two RBI's.
   Garland, now pitching with a 3-0 advantage, made short doings of Happy Valley in the top of the fourth as the Blue Devil ace struck out the side in the frame.
   "I couldn't get my footing on the mound to well in the first two or three innings," stated pitching ace Garland. "I finally got in a groove and brought my fastball down while getting my curve to break pretty good in the last few innings."
   Not to be outdone, Holmes again made quality pitches to retire the Blue Devils three up and three down in the Blue Devil portion of the inning.
   Now in a groove, Garland wasted very few pitches in sitting the Warriors down once again in Happy Valley's fifth as Garland notched strikeout number five in the inning.
   Happy Valley's next two innings were as dry as the sands of Death Valley with Garland picking up steam like a runaway locomotive. He added three more strikeouts to close out the game with eight total while issuing only one walk for the contest in the complete game gem.
   "Besides the game he pitched in South Carolina, this was the most dominating I've seen Nick this year," stated Blue Devil helmsman Chris Bogart. "He's 11-0 on the year and the best pitcher I've had in my four years here at Unicoi County."
   The Warriors collected all four of their hits in the first three innings. Three errors could have played a key to the contest as Unicoi County also had four hits, but generated their runs after getting on base and using their running game as an offensive weapon.
   Shannon Buchannon gave the Warriors some good relief out of the bullpen as he replaced Holmes in the fifth inning. Buchannon gave up only one hit in an inning and two-thirds, striking out one and walking none.
   Happy Valley will now square off against Sullivan North at 5 p.m. today at Hunter-Wright Stadium in a losers-bracket elimination game.