Unicoi withstands 'Betsy to take title

By Tim Chambers

   For six innings the smell of victory was in the air for the Elizabethton All-Stars, but the aroma quickly faded in the seventh. Unicoi County pushed across its two runs in its final at bat to knock off 'Betsy 5-4 for the championship of the Jr. League (ages 13, 14) softball all-star tournament Sunday at Lions Field.
   Unicoi had previously defeated Elizabethton 10-0 earlier in the tournament but found the girls from E-town to be a much tougher foe this go-around.
   After a scoreless first, Elizabethton took the lead in the second when McKenzie Eggers sent a ball deep to left that was dropped by the left fielder. Chelsie Fagan laid down a perfect bunt that went for a hit to set the stage for Janey Robinson, who lined a fast ball to right, scoring two runs for a 2-0 score.
   E-town added a solo run in the third when Nicole Cantrell singled and scored when Leah Henson's long drive to right got lost in the sun for a triple, giving Elizabethton National a 3-0 advantage.
   Unicoi closed the gap at 3-2 when walks to Kara Lynch and Mikayla Treadway set the stage for Andrea Clark, who drilled a double deep in the gap that plated both runners.
   E-town rang up another run in the fourth after Taylor Ballessa walked and moved to second on a single by Amy Aubrey. Hanson's groundball was dropped at first, allowing Ballessa to score and up the lead to 4-2.
   Unicoi got a single run in the fifth when Clark sent a triple off the center-field fence and later scored on an error. Meanwhile, Amanda Cooper found her groove on the mound for Unicoi, allowing only a double to Eggers over the final three innings while striking out five batters.
   Unicoi rallied in the seventh when Lynch walked to start the inning and moved up on a sacrifice bunt from Amber Freeman. After a wild pitch Treadway brought home the tying run with a groundout.
   Clark followed with her third hit of the game a two-out double and scored when Jessica Mason sent a deep shot near the center-field wall, giving Unicoi the win and a berth in the state tournament.
   Bellessa pitched brilliantly throughout the afternoon allowing seven hits, five runs while striking out only two. Bellessa received some great defensive play from second-baseman Cassie Johnson and shortstop Robinson, two players who time and time again made great stops to keep Unicoi from racking up the lead.
   Nikki Hyatt added two good catches from her right-field position to preserve the lead, while Eggers had a big-time showing behind the plate for 'Betsy.
   Robinson led the offense with two hits including a double while Aubrey, Cantrell, Henson, Eggers and Fagan had the other hits for Elizabethton. The 13/14-year-old stars are to be commended for the great effort they gave during this game.