Elizabethton All-Stars force  deciding game

By Marvin Birchfield

   JONESBOROUGH -- The Elizabethton National softball team battled off a late-inning rally as it defeated Unicoi County on Friday by the final of 13-12 in the District 5 Junior League softball tournament.
   "It was definitely exciting, and it was just a wonderful game and it shows the heart these girls are made out of," said Elizabethton National manager Richard "Jarfly" Dugger, whose team forced a Monday night rematch with Unicoi for the championship.
   Unicoi came back in the sixth frame from an eight-run deficit to pull within one before Elizabethton made a defensive stand in the last inning of play.
   "We've got more heart at defense -- Lana Blevins has held it together at shortstop, the out-field played great, and Megan Heaton did a great job behind the plate," said Dugger.
   In the top of the first, Elizabethton came out to capture four runs off of just one hit.
   Danielle Hurt led off with a bunt, followed by two walks to Holly Livingston and Brittany Smith, which loaded the bases.
   With a hit to the shortstop from Heaton, Hurt was unable to score as she was thrown out at home.
   Elizabethton scored its first run with the next hitter up, due to Mikael Oliver being struck by a pitch.
   A fielder's choice from Kendall Blackston brought in the next score, with pinch-runner Chelsie Cox crossing the plate.
   Two runs came after a hit by Blevins and an error by the left fielder allowed Heaton and Oliver to come home.
   Unicoi stormed back in the bottom of the inning to take a one-run lead, after several passed balls scored three of its five runs.
   Erwin's first run came after the leadoff batter Aleisha Engle took a hard shot from the pitcher, followed by an error by the second baseman that enabled her to score.
   The next three scores were made off of passed balls that brought home Leigh Love, Lauren Henson and Sara Bullen.
   The last run of the inning came from a fielder's choice by Emily Bennett, scoring Chelsie Stephenson.
   Elizabethton National came back to tie the contest in the top of the second with a hit up the middle from Heaton to bring in Tia Nave.
   Elizabethton decided to go with a pitching change in the second frame, bringing in Ryann Musick. Musick pitched the next three innings, giving up one hit from a bunt by Love.
   In the top of the third, Elizabethton took control of the game by scoring five runs, aided by four errors from Unicoi.
   Unicoi had brought Hopson to the mound, relinquishing Love from pitching duty.
   Elizabethton took the lead when a hit by Jessica Robinson scored Blackston.
   A single to shallow center field from Hurt brought in its next run, with Robinson coming home.
   Nave was able to score after an error was committed at shortstop, and a walk with the bases loaded brought home Hurt.
   The last run of the inning came from a shot to left field by Blackston that knocked in Cox.
   'Betsy captured three runs in the top of the fifth to stretch its advantage to 13-5. Back-to-back doubles from Smith and Heaton produced the first score, and a hit by Robinson and error at shortstop enabled Heaton to score. From there, a passed ball brought in Blevins.
   "Our pitching had been our strongpoint. We came in with two straight no-hitter games," said Unicoi County manager David Lane.
   "And I don't know if they were a little overconfident, but they didn't throw as well tonight as they had all week."
   Unicoi was only able to acquire one run in the bottom of the fifth, which came off a solo home-run shot by Hopson.
   The next frame was a good one for Unicoi, as it held on defense and managed to grab six scores.
   "It was a good sign they didn't quit. They got down eight runs at one time, but they didn't fold and rallied back to give it a good shot at the end," said Lane.
   With two straight walks and bases loaded, Elizabethton decided to bring Musick back to the mound and replace Robinson once again.
   "I made a mistake by bringing in a cold pitcher and I should have left Ryann in, but I wanted to save her for tomorrow night so I would have three pitchers," said Dugger.
   Katherine Harris ripped a double up the middle to drive in Lindsey Canady and Bennett.
   A passed ball furnished the next run with Marlee Cutler coming home, and a fielder's choice by Hopson scored Engle.
   Another passed ball brought home Love, and an overthrown ball from the catcher to second base assisted Bullen in crossing the plate.
   Stephenson attempted to come in off the mistake by Elizabethton, but was called out as she slid into home and was tagged by the catcher, preventing the game from being tied.
   "We almost pulled it out and another hit or two we would have pulled it out, but you've got to give credit to Elizabethton. They played us tough," said Lane.
   In the last inning of play, Elizabethton couldn't manage any offense as Hopson, who returned to pitch after going out in the fourth, made three stikeouts with the four hitters faced.
   This brought pressure to Elizabethton, which had just a one-run lead and needed to make a defensive stand to keep hopes alive in the tournament.
   'Betsy retired the first batter with a catch in left field from Robinson. The next two hitters were struck out by Musick to secure the victory.
   "To go out and protect a one-run lead in the seventh -- it's overwhelming how much they have come on the last four weeks," said Dugger.
   Game time on Monday is 7 p.m.