Lady Warriors break through against Devils

Photo by Kristen Luther
Lady Warrior shortstop Kortney Goulds retires Unicoi's Elizabeth Weaver at second base.

By Wes Holtsclaw

   Happy Birthday, Alicia Dick.
   In perhaps the biggest conference battle of her senior season, the Happy Valley Lady Warrior pitcher and her teammates showed an unmatched intensity and finally dusted the big bug off their shoulders.
   Dick threw nine strikeouts and only allowed four hits behind a strong defense to keep a possible share of the conference title alive, earning the program's first conference victory over the rival Unicoi County Lady Devils, in a 2-0 shutout performance at home Saturday afternoon.
   "We had a birthday cake before the game and this was my wish. I said I hope we beat Unicoi today," said Dick, who celebrated her 18th birthday on Saturday. "We came out and everybody put everything on the line."
   "We're trying to earn respect for ourselves because everybody compares us to Unicoi," she said. "We don't want to be compared to them, we want to be our own team and we want respect for ourselves. We want to be first, instead of always coming in second."
   The Lady Warriors had a strong inning of offense in the third inning, which reached its climax with a two-run single from senior Kortney Goulds.
   Happy Valley coach Karri Killen kept the team on its feet throughout the game to hold off the pesky Lady Devils.
   "Until Jessica Blevins put her foot down for that final out it wasn't over," said Killen. "The game's not over until the third out until the bottom of the seventh."
   "Even after we scored those two runs, I kept telling them that it wasn't enough," she said. "Luckily, it was enough. When you come in and keep a team like Unicoi from scoring, that's a big accomplishment."
   The Lady Warriors move to 18-8 on the season, with an 11-1 league mark.
   To clinch the share of the Watauga Conference title, the team must win against Volunteer (Monday) and Sullivan North (Wednesday) this week at home.
   Out of the four hits for the Lady Devils, Emily Bennett, Stephanie Byrd and Crystal Rutherford each made a base on a shot in the first, fourth and fifth innings respectively.
   It shows a lot of improvement from Dick, who wanted to do things different from the mound against the unit in their final conference battle of this season as opposed to past meetings.
   She succeeded, and then some without an allowed walk in the game.
   "I finally started to be more consistent with strikes," said the senior pitcher, who improves her record to 8-3 on the season. "It keeps the batters off pace and I try to use it as much as I can."
   The Lady Warriors' victory was helped by an impressive grab by Terra Whaley, who snagged a hard shot from Byrd at the top of the seventh inning.
   Elizabeth Weaver singled, but fell victim to a fielder's choice and Kellye Lingerfelt grounded one to first for the final out.
   "Alicia threw well and our defense made the plays behind her," added the Lady Warrior coach. "I couldn't ask for anything better. Unicoi is a great team and they're great hitters. You've got to keep them off balanced."
   Jessica Blevins delivered Happy Valley's first hit in the second inning, but the team was unable to get anything started until the final stanza.
   With an out already recorded, Mandy Byrd and Kate Powell followed with back-to-back singles for the Lady Warriors.
   Whaley loaded the bases with her single before Goulds delivered the dropper into left-field that provided the two runs.
   "I stepped up there and I thought, I just have to do this for my team and step up to be a leader," said Goulds. "I needed to get those insurance runs behind Alicia because she pitched a heck of a game."
   "We all really came out ready to play. We knew we had to get the job done if we wanted to be co-champs."
   Byrd and Christy Shell added hits in the game for the Lady Warriors.
   Natalie Lockner took the loss on the mound for Unicoi after only throwing one strikeout in the game. Since the Eastman Invitational, Happy Valley has turned things around for the better. Killen hopes the team can show the same fire through this week and into the tournaments.
   "I hope so," she said. "We started out a little bit rocky and at the Eastman Tournament, they turned around. They've got the talent and agility and when they want it, they'll go get it."
   Friday's Game
   Happy Valley 7
   Sullivan Central 5
   BLOUNTVILLE -- In Friday's crucial conference game, the Lady Warriors backed up a win earlier in the week with a road victory against the Lady Cougars of Sullivan Central.
   Dick got the start in the game, but once Happy Valley fell behind, Goulds was called upon to finish things off.
   Happy Valley battled back from a one-run deficit in the sixth with three runs to take a lead and never look back.
   Dick and Shell led the team with three hits a piece to set up Goulds' tenth win of the season.