Unaka bracing for 35-2 Mt. Pleasant in first round

By Tim Chambers

   When people talk about Memphis, the words Graceland and Elvis come to mind. The late king of rock-and-roll was also a gospel music lover.
   Many people today still listen to his touching rendition of "Peace in the Valley." But for the Rangers, peace in the valley will come at the hands of crossing a high mountain known as Mt. Pleasant.
   Unaka (26-13) will open play in the TSSAA Class A high school state baseball tournament against Mt. Pleasant (34-2) Tuesday 12:45 CST at Memphis University.
   Unaka has put up some impressive numbers this season against mostly AA and AAA foes. With quality wins over Unicoi County, Sullivan South, Daniel Boone and 30-game winner Harriman, the Rangers hope to make some noise in this year's Spring Fling.
   The Tigers are coached by Eddie Bassham, who compared his team much like that of Unaka. Mt. Pleasant is led by four seniors who split time between mound duty and the infield.
   Brandon Tuten (9-0, 4 saves) is the top pitcher on the team. Andrew Scharrer is a four-year starter at catcher, giving the Tigers a good battery.
   Coach Bassham indicated that Bassham was one of the reason his team enjoyed so much success this season.
   "He's a hard worker behind the plate and handles our pitchers well," the coach said.
   Naylan Roberts, who splits time at shortstop, third base and pitcher, is batting a sizzling .600 on the season. Bubba Holt is the other senior and plays shortstop, third base and pitches.
   "We never know who is going to play where in the infield until we know who's pitching," stated Bassham.
   Bassham indicated that this group had played summer ball together for three seasons, winning two consecutive state championship in American Legion baseball.
   The Rangers counter with two seniors batting over four hundred. Chad Lewis, 45 for 105 (.428), and Rusty Chambers, 39-97 (.402), lead the team in hitting. Both have started at short and second for four seasons. The have walked a remarkable 27 times apiece and each hit four home runs.
   The keystone combination was named to the Class A all-state team last season.
   Tee Blevins is the third leading hitter at .363 while Ryan Bowers is hitting at .343. Cody Collins (.340), Tyler McCann (.343), Randy Swearingen (.306), Travis Pasquale (.297) and Daniel McInturff (.270) have contributed to a team batting average of .322 overall.
   Pasquale is leading the team in home runs with six, with Lewis and Chambers pacing in RBIs with 32 each on the season.
   Brent Huskins has been as good as it gets behind the plate, and has come up with some big hits during the season. His two-run single against Harriman is one of the reasons that Unaka is headed back to the state tournament.
   Swearingen, Blevins and McIntuff form a trio that has been excellent on the mound for Unaka. Blevins tossed a gem against Jellico in the opening round of the regional while McInturff shut down University High in the finals.
   Swearingen threw maybe his best game of the year against Harriman, holding the Blue Devils to only one earned run. After the success that the basketball team had winning the state championship, the Rangers hope that history can repeat itself.
   "We've been here before so we know what it takes, stated King College baseball signee Lewis. "We want to win it all."
   LMU basketball bound Chambers added: "I'm not ready to hang up my spikes yet. Coach (Acie) Ensor has been wonderful to play for the past four seasons and winning it for him would be special."
   "I just want to represent Unaka High School the best I can. I sure am going to miss it next year."