Lady Warriors make Devils break sweat for 1-AA title

By Doug Janz

STAR CORRESPONDENT

   ERWIN -- The result was the same as usual -- Unicoi County is District 1-AA softball champion, and nobody in the Watauga Conference is close to beating the Lady Blue Devils.
   But Happy Valley has served notice to the rest of the league. The Lady Warriors can play some ball, too.
   Unicoi County did what was expected against Happy Valley on Thursday night, winning 9-0 to clinch another district championship. The Devils are 43-2, and this victory sets a school record for wins in a season for the mighty program.
   No shame in losing to perhaps the best Lady Devil team ever, though, and Happy Valley is making some school history itself.
   Despite the loss, the Warriors are 18-16 and headed for a Region 1-AA semifinal game on the road Monday, thanks to Wednesday's 1-0 victory over Volunteer in the losers' bracket final. They'll play at the loser of the District 2-AA final, either Union County or Claiborne County.
   Head coach Karri Killen said she believes this is the first time the Warriors have ever qualified for the regional tournament, and it's likely the most softball wins in school history.
   Could the team actually have some momentum despite coming off a loss?
   "Definitely," she said.
   "We're just going to stay up," said Warriors sophomore Kortney Goulds, who pitched the complete game against Unicoi County. "We want to go further.
   "I think we're pretty excited with the way we played. Unicoi County didn't beat us in five innings."
   Added Killen: "I think that 9-0 score doesn't do the game justice as to how close we played. Giving up five runs in the first really hurt us, but after that we settled down and played with them."
   The score was, in fact, the closest any Watauga team has come to the Devils this season. Normally their league games last only five innings before the 10-run slaughter rule is invoked.
   The first inning was difficult for the Warriors, who made an error and a couple more defensive misplays. Goulds allowed four hits and a walk before getting the third out.
   After that she seemed to find a better rhythm, and over the last four innings she limited Unicoi County to only two runs. Goulds retired the last seven batters she faced, although the Devils had inserted reserves in several spots by then.
   "With Kortney, the longer she throws, the better she gets," Killen said.
   Goulds (4-4) appears to be just about back to full strength after undergoing knee surgery earlier in the season. She has only played about half a season, but has bought into the confident attitude the young Warriors have developed, even though the starting lineup has no seniors and only one junior.
   "We're not letting ourselves be intimidated by them at all," Goulds said of the Devils.
   Unicoi County's Danielle Huskins hit Goulds the hardest, rocking a two-run double in the first inning, hitting a two-run single in the second, and then a two-run homer in the fourth. She finished 3 for 3 with six RBIs, and has knocked in runs in each of her last six at-bats going back to the district semifinal game against the Warriors.
   Unicoi County's Katie Baxter (18-2) was the winning pitcher.
   The Warriors managed four hits, all in different innings. Kate Powell had a double for the second straight game, Goulds had a single and also reached base on a walk, Jessie Blevins also had a single and a walk, and Alicia Dick reached base in the seventh on an infield hit.
   "I think Happy Valley has a real good ballclub," said Unicoi County coach Charlie Baxter. "They have a legitimate shot at winning Monday. I think they'll have a good regional tournament.
   "They improved last year, and then they improved that much more this year. I'm glad to see them do well."
   Happy Valley's Jeanie Hawkins, Leanna Howell, Dick and Goulds were selected to the all-tournament team.
   Unicoi County, which placed six players on the 18-member all-tourney team, was led by tournament MVP DeAnna Rice.
   Wednesday
   Happy Valley 1
   Volunteer 0
   Dick (12-6) was the winning pitcher against Volunteer on Wednesday, allowing only four hits and no walks while striking out four.
   Hawkins had two hits in that win. Powell added a double and Terra Whaley, who crossed the plate for the game's only run, had a single.
   Goulds had the lone RBI in the second, driving in Whaley with a fielder's choice.
   Twice, the Lady Warrior defense stopped Volunteer with the bases loaded.