Lady Rangers fall one step short of state

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR STAFF
mbirchfield@starhq.com

   KNOXVILLE--The Lady Rangers' season came to an end on Friday after falling to the Christian Academy of Knoxville in a 2-0 final in a Class A softball sectional.
   "We didn't beat ourselves. We gave them just one earned run, and if had been 1-1 then I could have said we beat ourselves," said Unaka coach Ronnie Hicks. "I needed them to play a good clean ball game and they did."
   Unaka struggled at the plate after getting off to a good start early on, managing only four hits with no runs crossing the plate.
   The Rangers managed to make some nice contact in the first inning, when senior shortstop Jessica Moffitt ripped a hit up the middle.
   "We all played hard, and expected to go this year but we just got beat," said Moffitt. "They hit better that we did, hitting the holes. We played hard to get here, and good luck to the team for next year."
   A hard shot to the shortstop from Brittany Taylor followed, but the Rangers struck out the next batter up and grounded out to first for the final out.
   It looked like Unaka wasn't going to have any trouble in producing runs when Medora Carrier led off with a bunt to start the second frame.
   A hit from Amy Colbaugh to the second baseman resulted in the runner on first being tagged on her way to second, then a throw to first for a double-play.
   CAK captured its first hit of the evening, when Lauren Jones grounded a hit straight up the gut.
   This was the only hit of the inning that senior pitcher Danielle Williams allowed, but a good job of advancing the runner by the Warriors produced a run.
   Williams gave up four hits on the evening, as she finishes strong in her four years at Unaka.
   "We had a few errors that hurt us and I had one run that was earned -- the other one on an error," said Williams. "I'll just move on down to Roane State and start playing there. We've played good and I'm proud of them and hope they have a good season next year."
   After a ground out and passed ball, Kara Hardin nailed a grounder to the shortstop, with the throw to first enabling Jones to score.
   CAK didn't allow a hit for the next two frames, as the Rangers were struggling with Warriors freshman pitcher Mandy Brockman, who was a big part in them going three and out.
   The Rangers were searching for some offense coming up in the top of fifth, and a grounder to right field by Amy Colbaugh was a start for them to take away the momentum.
   As it happened on their last attempt when they had a runner on base during the second frame, bad luck struck again with a hit to the second baseman for another double-play.
   The times Unaka did get the bat on the ball, it seemed like there was some kind of invisible magnetic field which pulled the ball right to the glove of the Warriors.
   "They made a lot of good defensive plays -- Unaka hit the ball well," said CAK coach Steve Jones. "More than anything else we might of made one or two more defensive plays that what they did. "They hit the ball as hard as we did, but they hit it at us a little more. If we played them five times it would probably be 3-2 either way."
   In the bottom of the fifth, the Rangers had two CAK down with two outs and no one on base.
   A hit to center field by Karla Barker set up the second run scored by the Warriors, as Unaka had a miserable time in fielding the next play.
   A shot from Brockman slipped past the second-baseman, with the outfield left to make the grab.
   It wasn't as easy as it sounded, with the right fielder falling down and the center fielder picking the ball up and dropping it for another retrieval.
   This allowed Barker to make the round trip home, with the throw from the outfield late coming in.
   Amber Woods opened with a leadoff hit on a blooper to second base.
   Next up was Jessica Moffitt, who nailed the ball to right field, which appeared in what was going to be the turning point for Unaka.
   A nice play after a grab by Rebecca Friar resulted in a throw to second to catch the runner off the bag for the double play.
   "The base-running mistakes at second was the biggest hurt we had, but I thought it was down," said Hicks. "I thought she had missed it and it had rolled to the fence and we had two across. It seems like in this tournament every time we had a good hit then the other team would make a great defensive play to keep us from scoring."
   The Rangers started off the bottom of the sixth with committing an error, but a ground-out to the pitcher and nice catch from Colbaugh in right field helped them avoid any damage.
   "I didn't know if I was going to get that one or not, but it just went right in my glove," said Colbaugh. "The third time's a charm, so we'll get them next year. We wanted to go this year for we wanted it bad, but it just didn't happen.
   "It was a great season and we've improved a lot this past year, so we'll get it next year."
   The Rangers had one last chance coming up in the top of the seventh, but two strikeouts from Brockman ended Unaka's season as she finished the night with throwing nine strikeouts.
   "She was all-state last year as an eighth-grader, and our catcher, she was all-state last year, so the team was represented who have worked hard to help their team become good softball players," said Jones.