Rangers sink Pirates

By Ivan Sanders
STAR STAFF
isanders@starhq.com

   With a wind gusting 25-30 miles per hour the entire game, the Unaka Rangers and Washburn Pirates found themselves locked in a battle to see which team was going to advance to the Region 1-A baseball championship game, and more importantly, which team could ink its name on a sub-state berth.
   The Rangers put together a five-hit, six-run sixth inning to stamp their name into a Friday sub-state game by shutting out the Pirates 8-0 at Claude Holsclaw Field on Monday evening.
   Unaka southpaw pitcher Randy Swearingen was once again a menace to the Pirates as he beat the same team last season in a game where he struck out the first 13 batters he faced.
   "I want to thank my catcher Brent Huskins because that wind sure was doing a number on my pitches today, especially the curve ball," said Swearingen after the game. "It was just a matter of me throwing strikes and letting my defense do their work behind me."
   Neither team could plate a run in the first three innings of play even though the Rangers actually managed to load the bases in the first with one out. The Pirates settled down to retire Huskins on an infield fly and Washburn pitcher Doug Hedge enticed his counterpart, Swearingen, into a swinging strikeout.
   Picking up six of his game's dozen strikeouts in the first three innings, Swearingen and his defense were making life hard on Washburn in the blustery conditions.
   Running like a herd of wild stallions, the Rangers finally dented the scoreboard in the bottom of the fourth inning with two outs. Thomas Guess reached on a walk and stole his way all the way to third base.
   A Hedge offering to Cody Collins sailed high over catcher Adam Wolfenbarger's head to the backstop, allowing Guess to race home for the game's first score. Washburn struggled to get a man in scoring position the entire game with second base being the closest the Pirates could advance.
   "We hit the ball occasionally, but never at the times when we had men in scoring position," stated Washburn head coach Aaron Clay. "We have seen hard-throwing pitchers this season, yet this was only the second time this season we have seen a lefty, especially one who was making his pitches difficult to pick up like Unaka's pitcher was."
   In the bottom of the fifth inning, the Rangers again manufactured a run as Chad Lewis walked, stole his way to third, and scored on a ball hit by Swearingen to first baseman Michael Winstead, who let the ball go through his glove into right field for a 2-0 Ranger edge.
   The sixth inning proved to be the volley that sank the Pirate's ship as Unaka finally woke the sticks up in a big way. Guess was once again in the middle of things as the Unaka center fielder scorched a double over the head of his counterpart, Ronnie Needham.
   Guess swiped his third base of the day with Collins gaining first on a walk. Collins took second on a steal before Ranger freshman third baseman Tee Blevins stepped to the dish and lofted a single into right-center field to plate both Guess and Collins.
   Lewis ripped a pitch for a double that went through the wicket of the Pirate shortstop to place runners at second and third base. Rusty Chambers then hit a rocket toward Hedge, who fought off the ball. Before Hedge could gain a grasp of the ball, Chambers was standing on first with an infield hit.
   An error by the Pirate shortstop allowed Huskins to reach first, with Lewis scoring to make it 6-0 in Unaka's favor. Swearingen picked up an RBI on a walk, with Travis Pasquale knocking in the final run on a pinch-hit single to give the Rangers their final margin of victory.
   "I was really concerned about our timing because it has basically been two weeks since we have played a game," quipped Unaka's head coach Mike Ensor. " I didn't think it would take six innings for us to finally get it going, though."
   Added Ensor: "I thought Randy pitched a great game today. Then there was Tee, who is a freshman coming to bat, and hitting two solid shots hard right at somebody before dumping it over the second baseman's head to score two runs with a single. It takes a little pressure off with the new format in the tournament, so now we will be playing for home-field advantage in the sub-state when we play here Wednesday."
   Unaka ran its overall record to 20-11, with Swearingen racking up another win to run his ledger to 9-1 on the season. Meanwhile, Washburn finished the season at 15-11.
   Unaka will play against the winner of the Powell-UH game at home on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. The winner garners the home field for Friday's sub-state game while the loser must go on the road.