Unicoi hand Lady Warriors sectional road trip

By Doug Janz

   ERWIN -- Happy Valley's softball girls knew that, win or lose, their season was still alive for at least one more game after Wednesday's Region 1-AA championship.
   That seemed to be the strategy against powerful Unicoi County, which knocked off the Lady Warriors for the fifth time this season, 16-1, to earn the regional title.
   The Blue Devils are 45-2 and undefeated in the last four district and regional tournaments, so Happy Valley was a heavy underdog. The Warriors knew a win would be possible but unlikely, so they were hardly downcast after the loss. They'll play at Knox Gibbs on Friday in sectional play, with the winner earning a state tournament berth.
   "We felt like we had to play this game hard, but we were concentrating on Friday because we have a chance to go to state," said Alicia Dick, the catcher on Wednesday but also the No. 1 pitcher in the rotation. "That's the important thing."
   The Warriors (19-17 overall) had prevailed in an elimination game at Union County on Tuesday in the region semifinals, winning 5-3 in a wild one. Dick was the winning pitcher, upping her record to 13-6 after a 1-6 start to the year.
   That's the victory that had the team celebrating, because no matter what happened against Unicoi County, the Warriors knew they'd be playing somebody on Friday for a state tournament berth. Wednesday's game was simply to determine who hosted a sectional and who traveled.
   The Blue Devils wasted no time taking control, scoring five runs after a two-out fielding error opened the door. That seemed to take away some of the Warriors' hope, and then Unicoi County scored three more times in the second, all but sealing the outcome.
   Unicoi County's bats were on the mark, accumulating 15 hits, including five doubles.
   Winning pitcher Beth Haun (17-0) allowed only one hit over four innings, a double to Kortney Goulds. The Devils' Natalie Lockner pitched the fifth, giving up a double to Dick, who scored on an error. Jessie Blevins also doubled before Lockner got the final two outs.
   The game ended after five innings because of the 10-run rule.
   "Like I've said before, Unicoi County is just a good hitting team," said Warriors head coach Karri Killen. "We didn't make the plays we had to a couple of times, and that hurt us.
   "But this is a fighting little team. I hope we put this behind us, have a good practice, and get ready for Friday. As long as we keep our heads up, it's OK."
   Happy Valley's players seemed to take the loss in stride, or at least to keep it in perspective.
   "Nobody ever expected us to get this far, especially after we started the season slow," said Dick. "We came out ready to play today, but I don't think this was a priority."
   It's the Warriors' first-ever sectional berth.
   "They've come a long way," said Devils' head coach Charlie Baxter. "We wish 'em luck on Friday."
   Unicoi County's Katie Lewis went 3 for 4 with three runs and two RBIs, while Rachel Oler was 3 for 3.
   The Devils on Friday will play host to arch rival Kingston, the team that eliminated them in the section the last two seasons. Kingston lost 9-0 in the Region 2-AA final to Gibbs on Wednesday.
   Game time was not set yet for Happy Valley's contest at Gibbs.