Cosby halts Lady Ranger quest

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR CORRESPONDENT

   With uncertainty of how things were going to fare this season, the Unaka softball team relied on tradition to carry them through in their quest for another conference championship.
   After getting off to a slow start, the Lady Rangers stepped up big in the later part of the year to put themselves in position to earn a showing in this season's 1-A state tournament.
   Unaka fell just one game shy in advancing, as Cosby won the battle of batting in a sectional pairing by a final 5-3 at Ronnie Hicks Field on Friday night.
   "We just got outhit tonight, and I guess we played good enough defense to hold it down a little bit until they got that one good inning going," said Unaka coach Ronnie Hicks.
   The Eagles soared past Unaka in the top of the fifth to capture the opportunity of traveling to Chattanooga, where they make their third consecutive appearance in the state tourney.
   "We just want to go out and play well and not make as many errors as we usually do," said Cosby pitcher Brook Valentine.
   Cosby started off in the first with a couple of hits coming from Kendra Ford and Leanna Huff, but a pop out to left field from Tiffany Self ended their chances of grabbing an early lead.
   Unaka had their opportunity to get on the scoreboard, when a walk to Danielle Carr and a single from Jessica Moffitt to center field placed runners on first and second.
   But Cosby pitcher Brook Valentine converted her third strike out of the inning by retiring Julie Roberson at the plate to help the endangered Eagles escape.
   The Rangers found their backs against the wall in the third frame, when two fielding errors at shortstop allowed Cosby hitters to get on base.
   Two strikeouts from Danielle Williams and a ground out helped secure the Ranger defense from suffering from the mistakes.
   Unaka got ahead in the bottom of the third as its first two batters drew walks, but the next three hitters were unable to take advantage by knocking a couple of fielder's choice and a strike-out.
   "We field really good and have a great in-field, and we also have cut back on making a lot of errors," said Cosby coach Tyler Shelton.
   Cosby had runners on second and third bases in the fourth frame, but Unaka's defense rose to the occasion once again by getting the final out with a strikeout to Haley Tucker.
   In the bottom of the fourth, the Rangers came to life with a leadoff double from Julie Roberson down the right-field line.
   Williams hit a fielder's choice toward the shortstop, which scored Roberson, giving Unaka 1-0 lead after four innings of play.
   The Eagles responded back in the fifth with a ground hit toward second-base from Valentine.
   "Our forte all year has been hitting, and we do a good job at it all the time," said Shelton.
   Cosby popped-out on their next two at bats, as Moffitt and Medora Carrier both came up in the outfield to make the catches.
   With just one out left to escape the inning, Leanna Huff smashed a two-run homer, giving the Eagles a 2-1 lead.
   "When I hit the ball, I just prayed and it made it over the fence," said Huff.
   Unaka had Alesha Buckles and Carr on third and second base in the bottom of the fifth, but couldn't manage to get either runner in for the score, as Roberson hit a fly to the first-baseman for the third out.
   Cosby had bases loaded in the sixth frame after acquiring three consecutive hits with only one out.
   The Rangers held on defense with a throw from Buckles to home after a grounder hit from Valentine, and a nice catch from Kelly Allen in left field denied the Eagles from adding to their score.
   "We played good and also played hard and it's been a good season," said Buckles.
   Unaka had a couple of hits in the sixth from Kristen Morley to left field and Emily Elliott to right-center, but they still were unable to capitalize by leaving two runners on base.
   "It's been a fun year, and if I could go back and do it again I would," said Morley.
   Cosby executed in the final frame with connecting on three hits and adding three more runs.
   It started with a double from Brandi Webb, followed by a single from Huff to drive home their third score.
   Two more runs were added, when a single to right-field from Tiffany Self scored Huff, and a wild pitch from Williams enable Self to cross the plate.
   "I had confidence in my team, and we busted the ball hard today," said Self.
   The Rangers had a tall order to fill heading into their final time at bat, and they made a valiant effort on making a comeback after trailing 5-1.
   The offense started their rally when Buckles hit a double to right field, followed up with a triple from Moffitt that drove in Buckles.
   "It was the last ballgame and I wish it could have went on, but that's how the ball goes sometimes," said Buckles.
   An error by the second baseman on a hit from Roberson allowed Moffitt to come in for another score.
   But this was as close as it came with Valentine getting a strike out to Morley, and a grounder from Allen to third baseman Julian Jenkins for the final out.
   "If we could of hit the ball in the fourth and fifth innings like we did in the last one, then we might could have beat them," said Hicks.