Rangers harness offensive prowess  into third regional title in five years

By Ivan Sanders
STAR STAFF
isanders@starhq.com

   Runs were being scored at Claude Holsclaw Field at such a frantic pace that those spectators sitting on the hill observing the game probably felt like they had just came off the Tilt-A-Whirl ride at a carnival.
   Fans of high-scoring baseball games received their money's worth on Wednesday afternoon on Stoney Creek. Unaka and Powell Valley combined for 30 runs, 24 hits, and 17 stolen bases with the Rangers reeling in the Region 1-A baseball title with a 20-10 victory.
   "Regional championships don't come easy, but we're tickled to have won our third one in the five years that I've been here at Unaka," said Ranger mentor Mike Ensor.
   "I made some mistakes tonight but for the most part we made the plays, and more importantly, when they made their mistakes, we were able to capitalize."
   Things didn't begin well for the Rangers and freshman pitcher Tee Blevins in the first as the Indians touched Unaka for four runs on three hits.
   With the score 4-0 in favor of PV, Unaka responded in the bottom of the second with three runs. Brent Huskins drew a walk with Tyler McCann entering as a courtesy runner.
   DH Randy Swearingen reached base after hitting a ball that the first baseman couldn't handle and advanced to second on a throwing error by Eli Messer. McCann scored on the second error.
   Chris Arnold worked the Indian pitcher for a walk and consecutive singles by Daniel McInturff and Thomas Guess resulted in one RBI each for the Ranger batters. The score after two complete innings stood in Powell Valley's favor, 4-3.
   Blevins nerves settled after the first inning, with the young pitcher hurling scoreless innings in the second and third complemented by stellar defensive play to back him up.
   Unaka surged ahead in the bottom of the third inning with a major onslaught that resembled the United States entry into Baghdad.
   Huskins reached on a fielder's choice with McCann taking over base-running duties. Swearingen singled McCann to third, where the speedy runner stole home on an attempt to nail Swearingen stealing second base.
   McInturff's second hit of the game plated Swearingen for a RBI. Cody Collins walked and Guess loaded the bases with a single to bring Blevins to the plate for a chance to help himself.
   Blevins responded by lacing a two-run single that pushed the Rangers ahead 7-4 at that point. Chad Lewis collected another free pass to load the bases for second baseman Rusty Chambers.
   Chambers put a charge into a Jake Gulley offering that traveled over 330 feet to straight-away center field for a grand slam home run.
   The shot seemed to take the air out of the Indians' sails and give the Rangers a ton of momentum as the lead stood at 11-4 after three complete.
   "It really helped to get us up in the dugout, but we knew we had to still keep swinging the bats," stated Chambers. "We wanted to keep scoring runs so they couldn't come back on us."
   Powell Valley picked up a run of their own on a hit and a Ranger error in the top of the fourth. Tyler Francisco picked up a RBI on a sacrifice fly to score Adam Poore to cut the lead to 11-5.
   The Ranger run-scoring machine was in high gear in the bottom of the inning as Unaka racked up five more runs on four hits.
   McInturff picked up his third hit, a single, while Collins garnered another walk. Guess notched his third hit of the game to load the bases for Blevins again.
   Unaka's hurler delivered again as he ripped a Gulley pitch for two more RBI's on a scorched single. Lewis scored Guess from third by laying down a bunt that Lewis reached safely on at first on the attempt to nail Guess at the dish.
   Huskins finished out the frame by knocking a single that cleared the bases for two RBIs. Huskins was pegged at second base after attempting to stretch the hit for a double. After four, the score was on the home team's side by a 16-5 margin.
   Down by a seemingly overwhelming amount, the Indians showed a never-quit attitude. Powell Valley reeled off five runs in the top of the fifth on three hits and two Unaka miscues to cut the Ranger edge to 16-10.
   Ensor's club eked their lead back to seven by scoring a solo run in its portion of the inning. Swearingen drew a base on balls and took third on a single by Arnold.
   Swearingen came home on a fielder's choice hit by Collins to make it 17-10 Rangers.
   Blevins bowed his neck in the top of the sixth, as the young man began to show signs of tiring after unleashing over a 100 pitches for the game. Blevins kept the Indians in the fort to give his club an opportunity to close the championship door.
   Unaka responded by scoring three in the bottom of the frame to seal the deal for Blevins and his team. Blevins walked and scored on a double by Lewis.
   Huskins picked up his third RBI of the game by scoring Lewis on a single. McCann, running for Huskins, stole second and advanced to third on a balk by Indian pitcher Drew Cheek.
   Arnold sealed the deal on a ground out to short that allowed McCann to score the 20th and decisive run in the 10-run mercy rule.
   Blevins admitted to being a little nervous to open the game.
   "I was a little nervous, but I just relied on my defense," quipped the smiling Blevins after the big game. "This has given me a lot of confidence and stands out as one of my most memorable games."
   The Rangers will now open sectional play on Friday at 4:30 p.m.. at Claude Holsclaw Field against Christian Academy of Knoxville, a 7-1 loser to Rockwood. The winner advances to Memphis for state competition while the loser packs it up until next season.