Unaka, UH reach winners' final

By Rebecca Pierson
STAR Staff

   The Region 1-A softball tournament managed to take place, despite the rain showers in the area, on Hicks Field at Unaka.
   Cloudland started out Monday with a 12-11 win over Jellico, which opened up the game with two hits and two runs in the first inning.
   The Lady 'Landers came back in the top of the first with two hits and one run by pitcher Kayla Blevins.
   The Lady Blue Devils came back with three more runs in the second to bring the score 5-1 by the end of the inning. The game started looking even bleaker by the third, when Jellico came back with two more, making the score 7-1.
   But Cloudland would make a top-of-the-third rally. Nicole Cantrell started out being walked. Blevins then bounced one past Ami Kellogg at shortstop, then Daranda Byrd hit another one to Kellogg, but this time she dropped it, allowing a double and two runs in.
   Jellico pitcher Kristi Buckner followed by walking Jamie Icehour and Jessica Lunsford, loading up the bases. Tryphena Denton then hit one to left field for an RBI.
   Nikki Cordell was also walked, allowing Icehour to come home. Jessica Ledford was then walked and Lunsford came in for a run. Nikki Carrow struck out before Nicole Cantrell was walked, opening the way for Denton to come home.
   From there Jellico head coach Danny Oaks decided it was time for a change at the mound. Whitney McGlanahan stepped in for Buckner to close up the inning with two quick outs and allowing no more runs, leaving the score 8-7.
   "We had the lead early, but our pitcher struggled in the third inning," Oaks said. "You just can't do that. You have to throw strikes. We battled back to make it close, but give Cloudland credit. They didn't quit, came back and beat us."
   In the fourth, Blevins struck out two batters and walked one before Cloudland would take its turn at the plate. The Lady 'Landers would rally back three more runs in the top of the fourth and cause Oaks to switch his starting pitcher back in.
   Jellico came back with three of its own in the fifth, but was stopped short by a double-play by Denton and Cordell.
   In the bottom of the sixth, Kellogg hit a line drive to center field for a triple, after two 'Lander errors at the plate. But another double play by the infield stopped them short and allowed only Kellogg around the plates.
   Blevins made the seventh short and sweet with a perfect inning to keep a Devils from coming back.
   When asked about Cloudland's performance in the game, head coach Gary Keith had one thing to say: "That was ugly."
   "We probably had more errors in this game then we have had over the past three," he said. "I told them to go and look up underneath a seat somewhere and see if they can find their game because we are going to get killed by Unaka if we don't. They had a marginal pitcher who wasn't throwing strikes, and ours wasn't throwing strikes. We were up there swinging at bad pitches. They weren't. They were walking."
   "I told the girls that we were going to start taking pitches, and I don't like having to do that," he said. "In order to get this game back even, you can't help them out by swinging at bad pitches. We did have two double plays, which was something positive."
   "The last couple of years, we have had a decent team," Oaks said. "But this year, we didn't have a lot of identity or leadership. The girls have struggled with that. We are a young team. We hope that next year, we will be looking at good things."
   University High 12
   North Greene 1
   In the second game, North Greene had nothing to offer up against University High. The Lady Jr. Bucs would open the first with two hits for five runs, and came into the second inning with three more runs off of two hits to bring a third inning score of 8-1.
   The lone run for North Greene would come from Tiffany Weems.
   Haley Williams, the pitcher for North Greene, had one perfect inning, but didn't have the players behind her to stop the Lady Jr. Bucs from running the game.
   Cori McVeigh pitched three perfect innings and only allowed one hit for the entire contest, minimizing the offensive options for North Greene.
   "We did a good job," said U.H. head coach Josh Petty. "We came out and got down one to nothing. Their pitcher had trouble finding the strike zone early in the game. We went up there and took advantage of those error pitches.
   "Cori did a great job pitching. Barnett went three-for-three. We hit the ball really well today. Overall, I thought the performance was great. It was just a solid performance."
   Unaka 12
   Cloudland 5
   In the main event, Unaka made use of the home field advantage and the tired Lady Highlanders to pull out a 12-5 victory.
   "I was more proud of them for this [game] than the other one [earlier]," Keith said. "We came out ready to make plays. You got to make routine plays and they did that."
   "I thought we had two shaky innings where we didn't play good defense very well," Unaka head coach Ronnie Hicks. "Other than that, I was really pleased with the way they came back after a bad inning and played well. I was real pleased with the way we hit the ball. I was more pleased with how we judged the strike zone."
   The Rangers would be the first on the board in the first with a run by Brittany Taylor. The second and third innings would be a stalemate offensively, producing perfect back-to-back innings by Unaka pitcher Dani Williams and Cloudland's pitcher, Blevins.
   In the fourth, Unaka's Amy Colbaugh hit a double to start. Tara Bishop then popped a fly to second, and was caught out by Cordell. Williams, Amber Woods and Kelly Allen were all walked, allowing Colbaugh a run.
   Megan Heaton then had a perfect hit to left field for a triple and three RBIs, bringing the score to 4-0.
   Heaton then scored after a bounce hit to the pitcher was dropped. After Julie Roberson hit a fly to shortstop Daranda Byrd that was caught, Blevins then walked Medora Carrier and Colbaugh, loading the bases. Nicole Cantrell was pulled out of left field to then pitch for the Landers.
   Cantrell walked Bishop and allowed another run before Williams' second hit was caught out in right field by Jessica Lunsford.
   The fifth would be another running inning, with Cloudland getting three runs off of four hits, and Unaka earning five runs off of two hits. The sixth would be scoreless, but the two runs made by Cloudland in the top of the seventh weren't enough to narrow the gap.
   "I think my pitcher got a little bit tired," Keith said. "Unaka hit a lot better this time than last time. We outhit them both times, but today they outhit us. They finally figured out Kayla Blevins' speed.
   "When they weren't knocking it around, we couldn't throw strikes. We don't usually hit off of Williams that well. We had our moments I thought. Unaka has a good program and we are just starting a one. We are trying to get at that level."
   Said Hicks: "I have been preaching about us swinging at bad pitches, but we made better pitch selection tonight, which I thought was key to getting extra-base runners with walks. That is going to be the key tomorrow night, too. Overall, it is the first step to getting qualified for sub-state. We have to win now.
   "I know whatever happens tomorrow night, it will be a dog-fight. [Petty] has a good team. They are well-coached and they want us really bad. We wanted them real bad two times and got them. I am hoping these girls can muster up that desire to win."
   Today's schedule will begin with Unaka taking on University High at 4:30. Following that game, North Greene will face Cloudland at 6 p.m. The losers' bracket final is set for 7:30.