Lady Rangers unable to  overcome fast UH start

Defense also plays pivotal role in championship outcome

By Marvin Birchfield

   The Unaka and University High girls softball rivalry continues to intensify, as the Lady Jr. Bucs have come out on top in post-season play after the Lady Rangers controlled the regular season.
   In the Regional 1-A softball tournament, it was University High winning the title for the second straight year in a 7-2 final at Ronnie Hicks Field late Monday afternoon.
   "We got outdefensed today, and they got some timely hits, with a blooper falling six inches short and my right fielder diving for it, and another little blooper out here in left," said Unaka coach Ronnie Hicks.
   The Rangers were forced to come back from the losers' bracket after suffering a 5-0 loss at the hands of the Bucs last week, and a fast start on Monday kept the University High momentum rolling.
   The Bucs captured four runs in the first frame, which seemed to rattle the Rangers throughout the contest.
   "The first inning we came out and got some timely hits and were able to get a 4-0 lead, and then we became a little complacent," said University High coach Josh Petty. "Two great games in the regular season and we were able to pull it together in the post season.
   "Our players knew we could come out and win for we did it last year."
   A hit to right field by Torey Crane drove in the first run, with Jessica McNutt crossing, and a double to deep left field from Megan Backers scored Cori Dodson.
   Unaka started off with Ryann Musick at the mound, and after the first four hitters reached base with two runs scoring, the Rangers brought in the senior replacement, Danielle Williams.
   "After I put Dani in she pitched great, and we went out there and fought and scrapped, but we didn't get the hits they got and they beat us," said Hicks.
   Williams struck out the first two batters she faced, but a blooper to right field from Brittney Carson drove in Crane and Backers for a 4-0 lead in the first frame.
   "Once we get down sometimes, then we can't get back up," said Williams. "We had a lot of errors tonight, and they outplayed us on defense.
   "If we get down late in a game then we usually bring it back up, but it's hard coming back up after getting behind that far at the first of the game."
   Hits were few and far between for Unaka throughout, as the Rangers couldn't capitalize on a leadoff single from Kelly Allen to left field in the bottom of the first.
   Unaka was making contact with the bat, but some good fielding from the Bucs managed to keep the Rangers off the board in the first six innings.
   "Not to take anything away from Unaka, they came out and hit the ball as hard as I've ever seen them hit it," said Petty. "Luckily for us, we played one of our best defensive games we've played in the four years I've been here."
   During the third frame, a line-out to the third baseman Heather Bennett resulted in a double-play, with the throw getting back to first before the runner tagged back up.
   A blooper to right field from Allen, which appeared to be dropping, was caught by the pursuing Georgia Walker, who barely made a nice underhand grab and throw to first for another double-play in the fifth.
   "They made three or four great defensive plays, so give the credit to them. They outdefensed us today and have a great ball team," said Hicks.
   The Bucs continued to make the routine plays while the Rangers were mesmerized by the onslaught they'd already received in the first inning.
   The opportunities for Unaka were unproductive through the first two frames, after two runners were left on base in each of the innings.
   University High left runners stranded in the fourth and fifth frames, but a combination of hits along with an error on the field increased the Bucs' advantage during the final frame.
   Crane led off with a rip up the middle, followed by a line drive from McVeigh to center field.
   "We came out confident and ready to win and we succeeded," said McVeigh. "We hit the ball very well, and my defense did good along with Megan behind the plate. "We couldn't have done it without our coach Joshua Petty."
   A walk to Bennett loaded the bases, which set-up a two-run shot from Carson on a hit to right-center field.
   Carson ended the game going 2-for-4 at the plate with four RBIs on the day, as the Bucs did a good job of stringing together hits when needed.
   "We played an awesome game and it's probably the best game we've ever played," said Carson. "It was great. We were hitting the ball around and I think just about everyone got a hit.
   "We never was able to do that before, and I think that give us a lot of confidence and a little bit of lead way."
   The Bucs scored their final run off a pop-fly to the second-baseman, but the routine play ended in a bobble and drop, with Bennett coming home.
   The Rangers trailed 7-0 going into the bottom of the final frame, and even though the situation looked dismal, Unaka wasn't ready to quit just yet.
   After outs were received by the first two batters, a hard hit ball from Williams bounced off the knee of the third-baseman to allow her the trip to first.
   "I like the way we were fighting with two outs away, and we had all the opportunities to score runs and just couldn't get the hits," said Hicks.
   Amber Woods received a walk to reach the bag, and a shot from Allen up the gut brought home courtesy runner Crystal Woelkers to score the Rangers' first run.
   "I hadn't been hitting that good, and that's the first time I've started to hit, but I don't know what's wrong with us right now," said Allen. "We just fell apart and I thought we had our heads into it to win, but we just all wasn't here.
   "We need to cut down on our mistakes and start hitting the ball, but our fielding mistakes is what's killing us."
   Jessica Moffitt smacked a line-drive back to the mound, which was too hot to handle bringing another run to the plate with Woods crossing.
   The Rangers' hopes would run out, though, as the next hitter Brittany Taylor fell victim to McVeigh after fighting off nine consecutive foul balls.
   "Cori came out and felt a comfortable lead and wasn't throwing as hard as she normally does, and when you get up by a lead like we did, you get a little more complacent and start making mistakes that you normally don't make," said Petty.
   It's undetermined where Unaka will travel for its matchup in the substate as the Rangers look forward to a possible rematch with the Bucs, which they had already beaten twice this year in regular season play.
   "Best of luck to them on Saturday, and hopefully both of us can get down there to Memphis, shake their hands and enjoy watching each other play," said Hicks.