Rangers sputter at plate in loss to Christian

By Wes Holtsclaw

   MEMPHIS--The Unaka Rangers got a taste of a larger scale of baseball Tuesday night, but didn't accomplish what the team sought.
   In the second outing of the annual TSSAA Spring Fling's 1-A baseball tournament, errors and a pair of loaded bases were costly to the Rangers, who were defeated by Chattanooga Christian 8-1 at AutoZone Park.
   Unaka was in the mix of things throughout the contest, but failed to capitalize when they needed it.
   "We gave up too many easy runs and left the bases loaded twice," said Unaka coach Mike Ensor. "One time there with no outs, we should've got at least four or five runs. We didn't swing the bats well -- things of that nature -- and we did not execute."
   The Rangers held their own against the senior-laden, experienced squad, and Ensor believes his squad can play with the best of them.
   "I told these guys that we're as good as any team down here," he said. "It's just a matter of going out and batting. We've got another chance tomorrow and we're going to put Randy (Swearingen) on the mound. It was a game-time decision with him, and we decided to give him a day of rest."
   Unaka freshman Tee Blevins did a solid job against Chattanooga's top pitcher, Ben Wharton, who won his 13th straight game of the season, holding his own throughout the majority of the contest.
   The Rangers will take on Jackson Christian School, which was defeated 5-4 by Davidson Academy, in the 11 a.m. EST losers bracket contest this morning at Christian Brothers High School.
   Jackson Christian had a 4-3 lead until the final inning, when Davidson Academy battled back with two runs. There was only one out and three runners left on base when the game ended for Davidson.
   Ensor said the team had a nice trip and things have thus far gone well.
   "Everything's been good for us so far. The trip down went well and didn't take as long as I thought," he said. "This park is beautiful and it was worth the trip down to play in it. We are staying in good dorms and it's a good situation for the team."
   The game was started when Blevins was hit by a pitch before a Chad Lewis shot was dealt a throwing error by Charger Josh Paul. Rusty Chambers walked, loading the bases for the Rangers. But Brent Huskins lined to pitcher Ben Wharton, setting up a quick double play for Christian.
   Paul got things going for the Chargers with a single, before Fordice walked. Dallas Cole set up a quick out for the Rangers as they closed the inning with solid fielding.
   Wharton was tough to tame in the second inning, striking out the Ranger side, and his teammate, Phillip Brown, was ready for the squad's next at-bat.
   Brown smacked a double out of Daniel McInturff's glove for Christian before Grant Fryar sent a shot roaring to Chambers, who underthrew Chris Arnold, putting two on base for the Chargers.
   Chattanooga Christian got on board when Wharton sent a shot into the shallow left field, scoring Brown. However, the Rangers got out of the inning with another solid defensive play from Chad Lewis, trailing 1-0.
   Cody Collins led off for Unaka in the third inning with a walk, then Thomas Guess got on with a fielder's choice and an error to put two on the bases.
   Tee Blevins successfully bunted for the Rangers, loading the bases, but Lewis and Chambers were sat down swinging, and Tyler Fordice robbed Brent Huskins to save the Charger lead.
   Fordice kept it up when he led off the third Christian frame, doubling on the first pitch. Cole followed with a sharp single into right field, scoring Fordice. After two successive outs, Brown launched another rocket for the Chargers, tripling Cole across the plate with a 3-0 lead intact.
   Randy Swearingen walked to open Unaka in the fourth inning, then made his way around the bases from wild throws. A passed ball gave him a run before Chattanooga's defense shut the Rangers down.
   Unaka got a quick out in the fourth before an error brought Wharton on board. Paul walked, setting up Tyler Fordice, who got on with another errored throw from the Rangers. Wharton scored on the play before Cole was intentionally walked. Unaka fought its way out of the inning, only trailing 4-1.
   Chambers singled in the next frame for Unaka, but the Charger defense was simply too much. Christian began another rally in the fifth after Brown was hit by a pitch and Matt Kemp singled. Grant Fryar followed with a shot into the arms of Chad Lewis, bringing another run across the plate.
   Christian scored again with the bases loaded, when a Josh Paul shot to Travis Pasquale fell short of reaching home plate as Kemp scored. The runs kept crossing when Fordice flew out to Guess, scoring Fryar, and Cole popped out to McInturff, scoring Wharton, to give Chattanooga an 8-1 advantage.
   Wharton was removed from the mound in the sixth inning with Clay Hinman, and both squads completed the sweep defensively. The Rangers were given one final shot in the seventh inning, but with three straight outs were sent to the losers bracket.
   Chattanooga Christian combined for eight hits compared to Unaka's two. According to Brown, also the squad's third baseman, it was a goal in the larger park.
   "This game was much different for us," said Brown. "It was a lot of fun in a park like this. Back home, one of the balls I hit would've hit the fence or went over -- so it was pretty hard to judge things here."
   SPRING FLING NOTES: The AutoZone Park is home of the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds (an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals) and is the only non-profit professional baseball team. Seating close to 20,000, the park in downtown Memphis is hailed as the nicest in Minor League Baseball and home of the Triple-A All Star game.
   Ensor has been very appreciative of the school's boosters, who supported the team's trip to Memphis.
   "Our boosters clubs gave us the money so we could come," he said. "We all stick together and raise money. If it wasn't for them, we couldn't make this trip."
   Elizabethton tennis pair Liz Dove and Amanda Pike will compete in the A/AA Girls Double's tournament beginning today at 12 p.m. EST. The Sullivan East Patriots begin their quest for a AAA baseball title today as well.