By Keeli Parkey
Playing Kingston (25-6) in the sectional round with a state tournament berth on the line, the Unicoi County High School softball team (38-10) managed only three hits in a 4-1 season-ending loss on Saturday, May 19, in Erwin.
“Their pitcher (Emily Workman) was jamming us inside,” Lady Devil head coach Grady Lingerfelt said. “It was just one of those days. Some days you just don’t hit. She had some pretty good speed. She’s a good pitcher. We could never get anything going.”
Kingston got on the scoreboard first when Lexi Lawson hit an RBI-single with two outs to score Casey Gaines and give the Yellow Jackets a 1-0 lead after their first at-bat of the game.
The Lady Devils answered on their first at-bat. With two outs, senior Sydney Miller singled on a fly ball to second. Senior Tanya Chavez then hit an RBI-double to center, scoring Miller, and tying the game, 1-1.
The teams held one another scoreless in the second inning. It appeared the Yellow Jackets would go quietly in the top of the third, but put together a two-out rally that would prove to be the difference in the game.
Following two strikeouts by senior Lady Devil Halie Padgett, Kingston got a runner on base when Lenna Robinson singled to left field. Gaines then doubled to left, which brought up Lexi Lawson. Lawson didn’t waste the opportunity – hitting a three-run home run over the center field fence for a 4-1 Yellow Jacket lead.
“We had two outs before they got anyone on base,” Lingerfelt said. “I thought we were going to be able to get out of the inning.”
The Lady Devils’ best chance to score came in the bottom of the sixth inning.
“It was the perfect time in the lineup,” Lingerfelt said. “If we were going to do anything, that was the time.”
Junior Halie Hawkins walked, then senior Rylee Stiltner reached on a fielder’s choice. Unfortunately, UCHS couldn’t get a much-needed hit.
The Lady Devils also couldn’t get a runner on base in the seventh inning as Kingston held on for the win and advanced to the state tournament.
Miller, Chavez (1 RBI) and Padgett each had one hit in the game. Padgett pitched four innings and had 5 strikeouts. Junior Allee Griffith pitched for three innings with 1 strikeout.
Six seniors – Grace Ann Clark, Greta Raby, Chavez, Padgett, Miller and Stiltner – will graduate from the program.
“They are a great group,” Lingerfelt said of the seniors. “They provided valuable leadership for the team. The whole team was a great team to coach.”
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The Lady Devils avenged their loss to Elizabethton in the District 1-AA championship with a 5-2 victory for the Region 1-AA crown on Wednesday, May 16.
“I thought we were more focused and we played really well that game,” Lingerfelt said. “We hit a good pitcher.”
This was Lingerfelt’s ninth region title in his 14 years as the Lady Devils’ head coach.
The Lady Devils started the title game on a high note with Miller’s two-run home run. Miller had her third RBI of the game in the top of the third when she hit a triple to right field, scoring Stiltner. UCHS then took a 4-0 lead when Miller scored on an RBI-single by Chavez.
Elizabethton scored their only runs of the game in the bottom of the sixth. The Lady Devils added an insurance run in the top of the seventh on a sacrifice bunt by Hawkins that scored Chloe Powers.
Miller was 3-4 with 3 RBIs in the game. Hawkins (1 RBI), Chavez, Griffith, Clark and Powers each had 1 hit in the game. Griffith earned the win in the circle and had 3 strikeouts.
The region championship gave UCHS the home sectional game against Kingston. Elizabethton lost to Knox Gibbs, 8-3, on the road in the sectional round on May 18.