Late rally saves Lady Rangers

By Wes Holtsclaw

   JELLICO -- Not playing a district tournament can have its disadvantages -- just ask the Unaka Lady Rangers.
   After a long road trip in the first round of Region 1-A softball play, the Lady Rangers met up against a Jellico Lady Blue Devil squad which was gunning for a shot at the state tournament.
   The Lady Blue Devils took advantage of some Unaka miscues, leading 2-0 up to the sixth inning of play. A run in the sixth inning, pulled Unaka within one.
   However, a fire lit into the Lady Rangers, and Jellico fell apart in the seventh inning as Unaka scored six runs to come away with a big 7-3 victory on the road.
   It wasn't pretty, but Lady Ranger coach Ronnie Hicks was glad to move forward to the region championship game against University High, which won 13-0 over Powell Valley.
   "That's what we did against University High earlier this season, and not playing the district and being out a week hurt," said Hicks. "With all of the mistakes we had, we came back.
   "If we don't get better than this in the outfield, we'll be hurting. But if we can hit the ball better, like we did in the seventh inning today, we'll be in the thick of it."
   It was a step in the right direction for a Jellico softball program that has been recently building into a successful club. Jellico lost a meeting with the Lady Rangers earlier this season, 10-2.
   "It was a good high school softball game," said Lady Devil coach Danny Oakes. "We are trying to improve our program and we took another step in the right direction today. One of these days we'll win a regional game.
   "You've got to give Unaka credit. Ronnie's a crafty coach and they are a very successful program. I'm really proud of my team, we've improved a lot since the first time we played them. We competed with them."
   Unaka opened up the first inning, with Brandi Taylor and Julie Roberson making their way around the bases on a passed ball and a walk. However, the Lady Devils battled their way out of the inning, holding the Lady Rangers scoreless.
   Stacy Perkins opened up for Jellico in the first inning with the first single of the game. She would also be left stranded in the frame.
   Neither team could get anything going offensively until the third inning, when an infield error gave Jellico's Amy Kellogg a base. Wendy McClanahan followed up with a double before a sacrificed grounder from Perkins scored Kellogg, giving the Lady Devils a 1-0 lead.
   Jellico bounced back again in the fifth inning. After three Unaka errors loaded the bases, Kristie Buckner scored on an errored shot from McClanahan to give the Lady Devils a 2-0 edge.
   Unaka was held hitless until the seventh inning, but scored in the sixth inning after Taylor got on with a fielder's choice, setting up an errored shot from Julie Roberson to cut into the lead.
   A solid defensive stand in the sixth inning gave Unaka one final chance at bat. The Lady Rangers opened with back-to-back singles from Kristi Moffitt and Medora Carrier.
   Lady Ranger pitcher Dani Williams followed with a single, scoring Moffitt to tie the game. An errored shot from Wendy Woods brought Carrier across the plate to give Unaka the lead.
   An errored shot from Jessica Moffitt and a single from Taylor loaded the bases for Roberson, who scored Woods and Moffitt. Before Megan Heaton delivered a big two-run single to take a 7-2 lead.
   Emotions were running high for Jellico at that point, and the Lady Devils opened with an errored shot from Tamara Heatwok. She scored on a McClanahan single, but it wouldn't be enough as Unaka held on for the victory.
   "They're working hard here at Jellico to build their program, and I thought they had us," Hicks said. "To come back in the seventh was good, but I didn't know why we couldn't do that in the rest of the game.
   "I'm glad we won and I'm proud of the hitting late in the game. I just wish we could keep our younger kids from making errors."
   Unaka's title game at University High begins at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday.