Share of WVC crown eludes Lady Rangers

By Ivan Sanders

STAR CORRESPONDENT
isanders@starhq.com

   Unaka was looking to earn its ninth straight outright or shared conference title in girls softball Wednesday.
   The only thing standing in the Lady Rangers' path was a University High team that had beaten Unaka earlier in the season, and needed a win to knock the Lady Rangers off the championship pedestal and claim it for their own.
   It took seven innings of soggy softball before the Lady Junior Bucs were finally able to claim the Watauga Valley Conference regular-season championship. They rallied for four runs in the top of the seventh inning to defeat Unaka by a score of 8-6 at Ronnie Hicks Field.
   "These kids have worked hard all season and came back after being down several times," said Lady Bucs head coach Josh Petty. "Even though we were down I felt like the girls could come back and win, but give Unaka credit because they played hard the entire game."
   UH dented the scoreboard first in the third inning after Brittany Carson was hit by a Danni Williams offering. Kelly Foster doubled to put Lady Bucs at second and third with no one out.
   Georgia Walker lofted a ball that the Lady Ranger left fielder appeared to corral before the ball slipped out of the webbing of her glove to load the bases. Torey Crane then singled to drive in Carson and give UH a 1-0 lead.
   UH tallied another run in the fourth as Megan Backers worked Williams for a walk. Cori Dodson then smoked a triple to drive in Backers to put UH up 2-0.
   Unaka came back in the bottom of the fourth as they scored three runs without the benefit of a hit. Brittney Taylor reached on an error by the pitcher and Julie Roberson was pegged by a Cori McVeigh pitch to put runners at first and second with one out.
   Megan Heaton walked to load the bases. Kristi Moffitt then hit into a fielder's choice that scored Taylor, with Moffitt reaching safely at first base.
   Williams helped her own cause by drawing a walk to score Roberson and even the score at 2-2. Amber Woods picked up Heaton by working McVeigh for another bases-loaded walk to push the Lady Ranger edge to 3-2 after four innings of play.
   Unaka added a couple more runs in the bottom of the fifth after holding UH scoreless in the top of the frame. Jessica Moffitt led off the Ranger fifth with a single and was followed up by a double by Taylor that landed at the base of the left-field fence to drive in Moffitt.
   A sacrifice fly by Heaton was far enough to allow Taylor to race to the dish for a 5-2 Lady Ranger advantage.
   Duff Reardon started off the sixth for UH by tagging a triple. Stacy Keller then hit a ball to center field that was misplayed to allow Reardon to trot across home plate safely.
   Backers laced a single to score Keller, who had advanced to second on a throwing error by the center fielder on the previous play.
   UH held the Lady Rangers at bay in the bottom of the sixth to set up their dramatic rally in the seventh.
   Foster reached on an error by Unaka's third baseman and moved to second on a walk to Walker. Jessica McNutt singled to load the bases for the Lady Bucs with Crane plating Foster with a sacrifice fly that was caught in foul territory by the Lady Ranger right fielder as she fell to her knees.
   Reardon picked up a single and a RBI, scoring Walker before Keller notched an RBI single to score McNutt. Reardon beat the throw to the plate on a wild pitch by Williams to add the fourth run of the frame to give McVeigh an 8-5 advantage going into the Lady Rangers last at bats.
   Jessica Moffitt singled and advanced as Taylor recorded her second hit of the game. Roberson hit a shot to right to score Moffitt with both Taylor and Roberson advancing on a throwing error by the Lady Buc right fielder.
   With the tying run at second, Heaton hit a rope that appeared headed for a hit, but the UH center fielder had a good bead on the ball to make the catch and nab Roberson before she could retreat to second for a double play and the final out of the contest.
   "It was almost like we beat them and lost the game all at the same time," said long time Lady Ranger coach Ronnie Hicks. "UH has probably the best team they have had over there in the last 10-15 years and just maybe the best team they have ever had, and when you drop four fly balls to the outfield and make errors on the infield you aren't going to win many games against a team like that."
   The game was a roller coaster of emotions for the Lady Rangers, and was at its climax in the decisive seventh inning.
   Said Hicks: "It got really emotional when Williams came out of the game. I just hope this will give us confidence because we have gone toe-to-toe with them twice, losing 2-1 and 8-6. When you make eight errors and lose by only two it says a lot about where you are as a team, and right now we are 10 times better than when we started the season."
   Unaka may get another shot at the Lady Bucs as they will host the District 1-A tournament, which begins on Monday. The schedule will be published in the STAR after the pairings are put together.