Blue Devil soccer team falls to South, defeats Cocke County

Daniel Raygosa chases down possession of the ball against Cocke County on April 11. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

Mistakes cost the Unicoi County High School boys soccer team in conference play last week.

Playing at Sullivan South, the Blue Devils (5-3, 2-2) fell 3-1 in a game they needed to win to improve their league standings.

“Honestly, we gave the game away with some crucial errors,” UCHS head coach Justin Ciralsky said. “We were not focused mentally. South’s team capitalized on a couple of our mistakes for two goals in the first half and then they scored a great free kick for the third.”

There were some bright spots in Kingsport last week.

“We dominated possession for the entire game, but in the second half we started playing much better,” Ciralsky said. “We scored an amazing whole team goal, and unfortunately we hit the post a few times. We weren’t able to play our game and we lost a very costly important game.”

Daniel Meza put the ball in the net for UCHS at South.

• • •

The Blue Devils rebounded from the loss to claim a 6-1 victory over Cocke County on Thursday, April 11, in Erwin.

“The game against Cocke County was much better,” Ciralsky said. “They moved the ball well and played with more heart and focus. The JV boys played much of the game and did well.”

Scoring for the Blue Devils in this game was Armando Saldana, Martin Porras and Matt Hensley.

Ciralsky said his team needs to keep focused as the postseason approaches.

“If we don’t play with heart and focus on doing the little things well, than we won’t be successful during the remainder of the season,” he added. “If we can come together and play our game, then I think we have the possibility of making it through the regional tournament. We will see; it’s up to the players.”

• • •

The Blue Devils hosted Elizabethton on Tuesday, April 16, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. That was another game the team needed to win to stay near the top of the league standings.

“We needed to win the South game to secure second or third going into the tournament and because of the loss we must beat a strong Elizabethton team for a chance at second or third,” Ciralsky said.

They are also scheduled to host Chuckey-Doak on Thursday, April 18, at 6 p.m.

Blue Devil baseball team wins 3 consecutive games

Garrett Manuel makes contact at the plate against Mt. Heritage on April 11. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School baseball team earned three victories last week, including two important Three Rivers Conference wins.

On Wednesday, April 10, the Blue Devils (10-11, 5-4) traveled to Sullivan Central (1-13, 1-9) for a conference doubleheader with the Cougars. Head coach Chad Gillis’ team won the first game, 11-3.

“This was a good win coming off a tough weekend,” Gillis told The Erwin Record.

The Blue Devils started the game slowly, but came alive late in the game.

“We came out with a lack of enthusiasm, but put it together in the end to get a good conference win,” Gillis said. “We ended the night with nine hits, most coming late in the game. It was good to see us putting up some crooked numbers in this one.”

Keaton Casey (3-2) was the winning pitcher for UCHS. The senior allowed 4 hits and struck out 6. Kaleb Metcalf came on in relief and closed out the game.

Peyton Whitson (2-4 with 2 RBIs) and Brett Strother (2 hits, including a home run, and 5 RBIs) led the way at the plate.

Caleb Crain, Drew Keasling, Ramon Avila and Metcalf each had 1 hit.

In the second tilt of the evening, Whitson (4-1) turned in a commanding performance on the mound – throwing a complete game with 16 strikeouts – and led the Blue Devils to a 6-1 win.

“We came out with a little more energy in the second game,” Gillis said. “Peyton gave us another dominating performance on the mound and just went after their hitters. Peyton has been very successful this year and gives us a chance every time he gets on the mound. He fills the zone up and keeps the defense on their toes. Peyton deserves his success because he earned it in the offseason. We just seem to play better when he is on the mound.”

The UCHS defense backed up Whitson, as well.

“Defensively, we made the routine plays to get us in and out quickly most innings and that was good to see,” Gillis said.

Whitson had 2 hits and 2 RBIs in the victory. Crain also had 2 hits. Casey, Strother, Keasling and Metcalf each had 1 hit.

• • •

The Blue Devils took an early lead and held on for an 11-4 victory over Mt. Heritage (North Carolina) on Thursday, April 11, at Baxter Field in Erwin.

“We scored seven runs in the first two innings, but gave up three in the second inning,” Gillis said. “We were getting guys on base with walks and getting timely hits by multiple kids throughout the lineup. This was a slow game with a lot of walks and freebies all around. I felt like we may have lost some intensity late in the game, but we got the win.”

Avila (2-0) was the winning pitcher for the Blue Devils. He threw 6 innings and had 3 strikeouts. Crain pitched an inning in relief.

“Ramon didn’t have his best stuff today, but he found a way to make it work,” Gillis said.

Casey, Crain, Strother, Keasling, Metcalf, Avila and L.J. Mitchell each had 1 hit.

• • •

The Blue Devils won a nailbiter at Cherokee (9-11) on Saturday, April 13.

“This was a very quick game because both teams really struggled to hit the opposing pitchers,” Gillis said.

Sophomore Jordan Bridges was on the mound for UCHS and earned his first varsity win.   

“Jordan started for us today and did a tremendous job,” Gillis said. “He really kept them off balance and continuously got fly ball/ground ball outs. Jordan has really improved the last two weeks. He has given us a chance to win in the last two games he has started.”

The Blue Devil defense also turned in another solid outing.

“Defensively, we didn’t have any errors and made every play in this game,” Gillis said.

While things were going well defensively, the Blue Devil offense couldn’t get anything going.

“We had a couple of chances to score midway through the game, but we just couldn’t get that timely hit,” Gillis said.

In the end, it was Mitchell who came through.

“In the top of the seventh inning, L.J. hit an eventual game-winning solo home run,” Gillis said. “I was really excited that L.J. had that big hit to put us up. That was his first home run for the season and it was a big one.”

The Blue Devils won the non-conference game 1-0.

Bridges gave up two hits and no runs with 4 strikeouts in the win. He also had 1 hit. Casey, Crain, Whitson, Avila and Mitchell all had 1 hit.

• • •

The Blue Devils traveled to Elizabethton for a conference game on Monday, April 15, and hosted Elizabethton on Tuesday, April 16, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue.

They are scheduled to host Wolcott High School at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 18, and Jefferson County on Saturday, April 20, at 1 p.m. The Blue Devils will return to conference play when they travel to Johnson County on Monday, April 22, at 5 p.m. and play host to Johnson County on Tuesday, April 23, at 5 p.m.

Blue Devil baseball team bests Happy Valley, plays in Tribe Classic

Caleb Crain makes a throw to first base. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School baseball team opened last week with a Three Rivers Conference victory, then battled AAA teams in a local tournament.

Playing at home on Tuesday, April 2, the Blue Devils (6-10, 3-3) relied on their offense to defeat conference foe Happy Valley (5-10, 1-7) by a score of 11-6.

“Any conference win is a good win, but we gave them too many chances in this one,” UCHS head coach Chad Gillis said. “We gave up too many walks and hit batters. Luckily, we provided enough offense to pull it out.”

A four-run inning led by Blue Devils Drew Keasling, L.J. Mitchell and Ramon Avila gave UCHS a 4-3 lead. UCHS added two more runs on a two-out hit by Peyton Whitson.

“We held them scoreless in the third and scored three more runs with Keasling starting off the inning again,” Gillis said. “I was proud of the way Casey, Caleb Crain, Drew, L.J., Ramon and Jordan Brigdes played offensively. These guys were on it tonight and carried us with their bats. We are still making mistakes that we shouldn’t be making at this point in the season, but we are improving with every game we play.”

Casey (2-2) was the winning pitcher for the Blue Devils against Happy Valley. He gave up 4 hits, 5 runs and had 6 strikeouts. Avila came on in relief for two innings giving up one run and had 4 strikeouts.

Casey was 2-3 with 3 RBIs in the win. Crain was 3-4 with 3 RBIs. Keasling was 2-2. Mitchell was 3-3 with 3 runs scored. Avila was 2-4.

• • •

From Thursday, April 4, through Saturday, April 6, the Blue Devils competed in the Tribe Classic hosted by Dobyns-Bennett.

Up first for UCHS was Science Hill (10-7) in Johnson City on Thursday. Unable to get hits when they needed them, the Blue Devils fell to the Hilltoppers, 6-1.

“There are a lot of positives to pull from this loss,” Gillis said. “First, Kaleb Metcalf is proving to be consistent on the mound with his performances. The score does not do his outing justice.  Kaleb kept them off balance and frustrated most of the night. One kid really had Kaleb’s number tonight and he had 4 of their 6 RBIs.

“I thought Kaleb did a great job, along with our defense,” Gillis continued. “We had guys diving all over the field and wanting to make plays defensively. We had opportunities to score in both the first and second innings, but couldn’t get that big hit when we needed it. I’m proud of how we played and we are getting better with every game.”

Metcalf took the loss for the Blue Devils. He also went 1-3 at the plate.

Casey was 2-3 at the plate. Brett Strother and Keasling each had 1 hit.

On Friday, the Blue Devils earned a 7-0 victory over Knox Karns (12-7) at Dobyns-Bennett in Kingsport.

“We played well Friday against Karns,” Gillis said. “It was good to see the team bounce back after losing to Science HIll on Thursday.”

Avila set the tone of the mound, getting his first win of the season.

“Karns was another good team that just couldn’t get anything going offensively against Avila,” Gillis said. “He really kept them off balance all night, which produced a lot of fly ball/ground ball outs. Drew Keasling also threw out two runners from behind the plate.”

Patience at the plate was key to the win.

“Offensively, we were drawing multiple walks and then getting a big hit which scored multiple runs,” Gillis said.

Whitson was 3-4 at the plate in the victory. Strother was 3-5. Metcalf was 2-2. Keasling was 1-2.

The Blue Devils opened play on Saturday with a 12-0 loss to David Crockett (5-10) at Dobyns-Bennett.

Crain took the loss for UCHS and was 1-2 at the plate. Darren Soulier was 1-1.

Later on Saturday, the Blue Devils lost 5-1 to tournament host Dobyns-Bennett (11-7) in Kingsport.

Bridges took the loss for UCHS.

“I was really proud of Jordan’s effort on the mound,” Gillis said. “He battled hard for 6 innings and consistently held off DB’s rallies.”

Casey, Metcalf, Garrett Manuel and Avila each had 1 hit in the loss.

• • •

The Blue Devils currently sit at fourth place in the Three Rivers Conference standings. Elizabethton (13-4) is in first place at 6-0; Sullivan East (9-8) is in second place at 6-2; Sullivan South (11-4) is in third place at 5-1; Unicoi County (6-10) is in fourth place at 3-3; Johnson County (5-5) is in fifth place at 2-4; Happy Valley (5-10) and Sullivan Central (1-11) are tied for sixth place at 1-7.

UCHS is scheduled to travel to Sullivan Central for a doubleheader on Wednesday, April 10, beginning at 5 p.m. The Blue Devils are scheduled to host Mt. Heritage on Thursday, April 11, at 4:30 p.m. and travel to Cherokee on Saturday, April 13, 2:30 p.m. They will travel to Elizabethton on Monday, April 15, for an in-school game and will host Elizabethton at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 16.

Blue Devil soccer team wins 3 straight games

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School soccer team has won three consecutive games.

After starting the season with a 1-2 record, the Blue Devils (4-2, 2-1) have found a groove in recent weeks.

“We are playing well and coming together nicely as a team,” head coach Justin Ciralsky told The Erwin Record. “The senior leadership is doing a good job at keeping the boys focused at our tasks at hand. We are working hard in practice and hoping that hard work pays off on the field.”

Ciralsky’s team defeated Volunteer in Erwin on March 26 by the score of 6-0. Two days later, they held KACHEA scoreless for a 5-0 victory.

“The boys played great both games,” Ciralsky said. “Volunteer was our first conference win and a big confidence booster for the rest of the season. … The boys are starting to gel nicely and stay focused during games or practices. We need to focus on our attitudes and continue working hard in practices so that we can continue to play well.”

Another league win came at Sullivan Central on April 2 as the Blue Devils defeated the Cougars 4-1.

“The boys dominated the game in possession and we were able to convert some goals late in the second half for the victory,” Ciralsky said.

• • •

The Blue Devils were scheduled to travel to Sullivan South for an important conference game on Tuesday, April 9, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. They are scheduled to host Cocke County at the UCHS track on Thursday, April 11, at 6 p.m.  They are also scheduled to host conference foe Elizabethton on Tuesday, April 16, at 6 p.m.

Lady Devil softball team unbeaten in league

Following her home run against Sullivan South in the NFS Tournament on Friday, April 5, Ashtan Vance is greeted by her Lady Devil teammates at home plate. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

From Staff Reports

Three Rivers Conference victories last week over Elizabethton and Johnson County kept the Unicoi County High School softball team at the top of the league standings.

First, the Lady Devils (20-4, 6-0) defeated Elizabethton on Tuesday, April 2, at Lady Devil Diamond in Erwin. The Lady Devils held on for a 9-6 victory after the Lady Cyclones rallied for 5 runs in the top of the sixth inning.

Allee Griffith had 5 strikeouts in the circle for the Lady Devils. Carly Kinsler led the way at the plate for UCHS with 3 hits, including a homerun, and 3 RBIs. Halie Hawkins (1 RBI), Cassie Selvage (1 RBI) and Samantha Chavez each had 2 hits for the Lady Devils. Chloe Powers, Griffith (1 RBI). Betsabe Chavez (2 RBIs) and Bella Bogart each had 1 hit.

On Thursday, April 4, the Lady Devils bested Johnson County 8-2 on the road in Mountain City.

UCHS held a 2-0 lead after three innings before a 3-run fourth inning gave the team a comfortable lead. Two runs in the top of the seventh inning sealed the victory for the Lady Devils.

Griffith threw 5 innings and had 7 strikeouts in the win. Abbie Grindstaff threw 2 innings and had 1 strikeout.

Samantha Chavez and Bogart each had 3 hits in the win. Hawkins, (2 RBIs), Selvage (1 RBI), Kinsler (1 RBI) and Ashtan Vance (2 RBIs) each had 2 hits. Griffith and Betsabe Chavez each had 1 hit.

Current Three Rivers Conference standings are as follows: Unicoi County in first place at 6-0; Sullivan East in second place at 5-1; Sullivan South in third place at 3-2; Elizabethton in fourth place at 2-2; Johnson County and Sullivan Central tied for fifth place at 1-4; and Happy Valley in last place at 0-5.

• • •

The Lady Devils ended the week playing in the annual NFS Tournament on Friday, April 5, and Saturday, April 6, at Lady Devil Diamond.

UCHS cruised through pool play Friday evening with a 12-5 over Sullivan South and a 5-2 victory over Johnson County.

Griffith had 4 strikeouts in the win over South as her team’s bats came alive against the opposing pitchers. The Lady Devils had 4 home runs – one each by Powers, who hit a grand slam, Vance, Hawkins and Kinsler – in the victory.

Abbie Grindstaff earned the win in the circle for the Lady Devils against Johnson County, throwing 3 strikeouts in the game.

Griffith had 3 hits and an RBI in the Johnson County win. Samantha Chavez had a home run and 2 RBIs. Powers had 1 hit and 1 RBI. Hawkins had 1 hit.

The Lady Devils defeated Chuckey-Doak, 12-3, in their final pool play game on Saturday morning. UCHS scored 10 runs in the home half of the first inning, then cruised to victory.

Grindstaff (4 strikeouts) and Hannah Shelton (3 strikeouts) teamed up in the circle for the victory.

Bogart had 2 hits and 2 RBIs in the win. Betsabe Chavez (1 RBI), Powers (1 RBI), Griffith (2 RBIs), Caroline Podvin, Samantha Chavez, Kinsler (1 RBI), Rachel Hatcher (1 RBI) and Kaylia Street (1 RBI) each had 1 hit. Vance and Kaylee Lamb each had an RBI.

The Lady Devils opened the bracket portion of the NFS Tournament against Grainger, a potential postseason opponent, on Saturday afternoon.

After Grainger took a 2-0 in the at-bat, the Lady Devils responded with 5 runs in the bottom of the first inning. Grainger then added 2 runs in the second inning, 3 in the third and 1 in the fourth to hold an 8-5 lead.

Hawkins opened the bottom half of the fourth inning with a single for the Lady Devils. She then stole second and moved to third base on a wild pitch. She later scored on a double by Powers to centerfield for an 8-6 score.

Powers then scored on a double by Griffith for an 8-7 score. Street was brought in to run for Griffith. A home run by Samantha Chavez drove in Street and gave UCHS the 9-8 victory, which sent the Lady Devils to the championship game against Science Hill.

Powers was the winning pitcher for UCHS. Hawkins and Powers (1 RBI) each had 2 hits in the victory. Selvage, Griffith (1 RBI), Chavez (2 RBIs) and Vance each had 1 hit.

In the championship game, the Lady Devils managed only 3 hits – one each by Selvage, Powers and Samantha Chavez – against Science Hill. The Lady Hilltoppers had 12 hits en route to their 9-0 victory over UCHS.

• • •

The Lady Devils hosted Sullivan Central on Tuesday, April 9, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue.

They are scheduled to travel to Happy Valley on Thursday, April 11, for a game at 5:30 p.m.

They will host David Crockett on Monday, April 15, and Sullivan South on Tuesday, April 16, at 5:30 p.m.

UCHS softball team sweeps Eastman pool play

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School softball team cruised through pool play in the annual Eastman Tournament in Kingsport last week, but couldn’t advance through the bracket portion of the event and compete for the crown.

“That is a very good tournament,” head coach Grady Lingerfelt said. “Overall, I thought we played very well.”

The Lady Devils (14-3, 4-0) played two games on Thursday, March 28, neither of which counted toward the tournament results. In these two extra contests, they defeated Cherokee, 4-2 and Greenbrier, 2-0.

“Both of those games were good games, especially the win over Greenbrier,” Lingerfelt said. “They are a really good team who usually competes at the state tournament.”

Senior pitcher Allee Griffith pitched both games on Thursday with a combined 12 strikeouts in the two wins.

Offensively for the Lady Devils against Cherokee, Samantha Chavez and Carly Kinsler had 2 hits and 1 RBI each. Halie Hawkins, Chloe Powers, Griffith, Ashtan Vance, Kiley Bennett and Kaylia Street (1 RBI) each had 1 hit. Betsabe Chavez had 1 RBI.

Against Greenbrier Hawkins (1 RBI) and Powers each had 2 hits. Griffith (1 RBI), Samantha Chavez and Betsabe Chavez each had 1 hit.

The victories on Thursday gave the Lady Devils momentum and confidence going into the weekend. The team began pool play in the annual event on Friday, March 29, defeating both William Blount and Walker Valley.

“We played extremely well on Friday,” Lingerfelt said.

Against William Blount, the Lady Devils saw an early 2-0 lead turn into a tie game by the end of the fourth inning. However, UCHS was able to take advantage of runners on base in the top of the sixth inning. Betsabe Chavez reached on a single, then moved to second when Vance walked. Sophomore Caroline Podvin then drove in Chavez for the go-ahead run. The Lady Devils won the game, 3-2.

Griffith was again the winning pitcher with 5 strikeouts.

Betsabe Chavez was 3-3 at the plate. Hawkins, Powers, Griffith (1 RBI), Samantha Chavez (1 RBI) and Vance each had 1 hit. Podvin had 1 RBI.

Next up for the Lady Devils was Walker Valley. Lingerfelt’s team jumped all over the 2018 Eastman champion in the first inning – scoring 4 runs. UCHS added 2 more runs in both the fourth and fifth innings and won the game 8-2. Griffith was the winning pitcher.

Kinsler went 3-3 at the plate in this game with 1 RBI. Hawkins (1 RBI), Cassie Selvage, Powers, Griffith (1 RBI), Samantha Chavez (1 RBI), Vance and Bella Bogart (1 RBI) each had 1 hit. Betsabe Chavez had 1 RBI.

“William Blount is an exceptional team,” Lingerfelt said. “We hit the ball very well.”

On Saturday, March 30, the Lady Devils were sluggish at the start of their pool play game against Paintsville, Kentucky, but battled for a 2-0 victory.

“We should have won that game by a lot more,” Lingerfelt said. “We didn’t play very well.”

Griffith threw 9 strikeouts and 2 hits in the win. Hawkins (1 RBI), Powers, Samanta Chavez, Kinsler, Betsabe Chavez and Vance each had 1 hit.

The final pool play game for the Lady Devils was a 13-0 blowout victory over Three Rivers Conference for Sullivan Central Saturday afternoon. Juniors Abbie Grindstaff (6 strikeouts) and Hannah Shelton (1 strikeout) were in the circle for the Lady Devils.

Bogart had 2 hits and 1 RBI against Central. Street (2 RBIs), Selvage, Powers (2 RBIs), Kirsten Buchanan, Kinsler (2 RBIs), Podvin (1 RBI), Jimena Rodriguez and Allison Hensley each had 1 hit. Samantha Chavez and Betsabe Chavez each had 1 RBI.

The Lady Devils’ success in pool play gave them the number three seed out of 16 teams going into the tournament portion of the event. Unfortunately, Lingerfelt’s team was running low on energy going into the first game of the tournament on Saturday night.

Matched up against Cookeville, the Lady Devils managed only 1 hit in the game.

“Cookeville is an excellent team,” Lingerfelt said. “Their pitcher was as good as anyone I have seen in the tournament. She was left handed, which makes it harder to hit. We just didn’t play well. We ran out of gas.”

The loss eliminated UCHS from the event. Knox Powell won the 2019 Eastman Tournament.

• • •

The Lady Devils hosted Elizabethton in Three Rivers Conference play on Tuesday, April 2, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. They are scheduled to travel to Johnson County on Thursday, April 4, for a conference game beginning at 5:30 p.m.

They will host the annual NFS Tournament on Friday, April 5, and Saturday, April 6, at Lady Devil Diamond in Erwin. Lingerfelt’s team will play Sullivan South at 4 p.m. on Friday and Johnson County at 5:30 p.m. They will wrap up pool play on Saturday against Chuckey-Doak at 9 a.m. The tournament portion of the event will begin at noon on Saturday.

“We are very grateful to NFS for sponsoring this tournament each season,” Lingerfelt said. “They have been a wonderful supporter over the years.”

The Lady Devils will resume conference play on Tuesday, April 9, at home against Sullivan Central at 5:30 p.m.

Blue Devil baseball team bests Madison Co., Happy Valley

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School baseball team opened its most recent stretch of games across the mountain.

Playing at Madison County, North Carolina, on Monday, March 27, the Blue Devils (4-7, 2-3) followed the lead of junior pitcher Peyton Whitson.

“Once again, Peyton dominated on the mound,” Blue Devil head coach Chad Gillis said. “Madison County is a good team. Peyton just never gave them an opportunity to get going.”

Whitson was working on a no-hitter into the fourth inning before a fly ball dropped in between the UCHS infield and outfield.

“Keaton (Casey) then recorded an out by throwing out a runner trying to get to third,” Gillis said. “When Keaton shut down a scoring opportunity it seemed as if we took the wind from their sails.”

The Blue Devil offense traveled with them over the mountain on Monday.

“Offensively, we couldn’t have asked for a better night,” Gillis said. “We didn’t score in bunches, but we scored every inning and did so by working counts and getting timely hits. Jordan Bridges and Strother both had great nights offensively. Every time Jordan reached base, the top of our lineup got him in. Jordan also did a great job moving up on balls in the dirt to put himself in scoring position.”

UCHS won the game, 10-0.

“Tonight was an all-around great win and we are starting to see some progress from multiple players offensively,” Gillis said.

Whitson (2-1) threw 5 innings and gave up only 1 hit and no runs. He also had 8 strikeouts and had 2 RBIs. Casey was 2-4. Strother was 2-4 with 3 RBIs. Bridges was 1-2 with 3 runs scored.

• • •

Beginning Thursday, March 28, the Blue Devils played in the three-day FCA Tournament hosted in Bristol. Their first opponent was Morristown East at Tennessee High.

“Keaton started the game on the mound and didn’t throw bad,” Gillis said. “He had 4 strikeouts and 2 walks in three innings. Unfortunately for him, we had multiple balls misplayed by our defense. Ramon Avila relieved Casey and gave up four runs on hit batters. I had to let him grind it out because I knew we had two games in two days coming up.”

The Blue Devils found themselves down 9-1 in the top of the fourth inning.

“Ramon kept the score at 9-1 and we start to chip away at their lead,” Gillis said.

In the top of the seventh, UCHS had a chance to tie the game with the bases loaded and two outs, but just couldn’t get the runs across. Morristown East held on to win the game 9-7.

“There were many positives to pull from this game,” Gillis said. “Ramon never quit; he kept battling on the mound and gave us a chance in the end. Defensively, we began making plays and put ourselves in a good spot in the seventh inning. I was proud of how we continued to chip away and battle back in this game.”

Casey (1-2) took the loss on the mound. Caleb Crain was 1-2 with an RBI. Kaleb Metcalf was 2-3. Avila was 2-4. Bridges was 1-2.

On Friday, the Blue Devils lost another close contest – this time to Union High School of Virginia at Virginia High.

“This was a great baseball game to be a part of,” Gillis said. “Kaleb kept us in the game against a talented team from the start. It was back and forth the entire game with Kaleb getting a big hit scoring to runs to put us up one in the fifth.”

Defensive mistakes were costly in the game.

“The outfield misplayed some balls that allowed Union to get on the board multiple times, but it was a good experience for some of these guys as they were making their first starts in the outfield,” Gillis said. “In the end, Union brings in a shutdown guy and we timed him up pretty well by his second inning. It was good for us to get to see such a good arm because it will prepare us for future opponents.”

Despite the mistakes, the Blue Devils had chances to win.

“Overall, I was proud of our effort in this game,” Gillis said. “Again, we came out and battled and put ourselves in a spot to tie or win in the seventh inning. We didn’t get those runs across, but we keep giving ourselves a chance – our time will come.”

Union won the game 6-4.

Metcalf took the loss for UCHS.

“He threw six innings of great baseball, giving up 5 runs and striking out 6,” Gillis said. “This is Kaleb’s second varsity start and he should have won this game. He is really showing that he can be a great pitcher.”

Drew Keasling was 3-4 at the plate for the Blue Devils.

Playing Daniel Boone at Virginia High on Saturday, the Blue Devils trailed from the start.

“Boone came out hot against Bridges, scoring 9 in the first inning,” Gillis said. “We got some guys on base, but couldn’t make up that margin in the end. …  Boone is a really good team, we just didn’t have the arms to compete with them late in a tournament.”

Boone won the game 13-1.

Bridges made his first varsity start on the mound and took the loss. Crain threw two innings. Freshman Bryson Peterson made his varsity debut on the mound and recorded a scoreless inning. He also got his first varsity hit.

Avila, Crain, Metcalf, Peterson and Robbie O’Dell were all 1-2 in the game.

• • •

The Blue Devils returned to Three Rivers Conference play on Monday, April 1, at Happy Valley.

“We started out slow offensively,” Gillis said. “Their pitcher had us off balance and we didn’t make adjustments early in the game.”

UCHS took a 1-0 lead in the fifth. Keasling reached base and Kody Lewis came in to run. Lewis stole second and moved to third on a passed ball. Avila then hit an RBI sacrifice fly to score Lewis.

“Kody is a major threat on the bases as a runner and he came up big tonight to get our first run across,” Gillis said.

The Blue Devils added two more runs in the final inning.

“We had big base hits from Avila, L.J. Mitchell, Crain, and Drew to score a couple more runs in the top of the seventh,” Gillis said. “Lewis ended the night with 2 runs scored. It was good to see Crain come out hitting tonight and getting on base. We have to learn that we must make in-game adjustments at the plate to be successful. We did have some kids make adjustments late in the game, which is what helped us win a big conference game.”

UCHS won the game 3-0.

Whitson (3-1) earned the win on the mound. He gave up only 3 hits and had 13 strikeouts.

“Peyton gave us another shutdown performance tonight,” Gillis said. “We were slow offensively, but he held them long enough for us to manufacture some runs in the end.”

Avila was 2-2 in the win. Crain was 3-4.

• • •

The Blue Devils hosted Happy Valley on Tuesday, April 2, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue.

They are scheduled to play in a tournament hosted by Dobyns-Bennett from Thursday, April 4, through Saturday, April 5. They will travel to Sullivan Central for a conference game on Monday, April 8, 6:30 p.m. They will host Central on Tuesday, April 9, at 5 p.m.

Golf program begins at Unicoi County Middle School

The 2019 Unicoi County Middle School golf program includes, pictured from left, back row, head coach Gene Renfro, Luke Berry, Caleb Peterson and Noah Jones; front row, Hayden Hottinger, Kameron Bell, Carson Woodward and Leslie Calain; not pictured, Eli Bratton and Noat Attaway. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Keeli Parkey

For the first time, students at Unicoi County Middle School have the chance to hit the links for their school.

“The program was started to give an opportunity for student-athletes at the middle school level a chance to play a new sport and help build the program for the high school as well,” said UCMS head coach Gene Renfro.

Matches began last month and Renfro, who is also the head coach of the Unicoi County High School golf program, likes what he sees from his Jr. Blue Devil and Jr. Lady Devil golfers.

“(The season) has gone well,” Renfro said. “There has been a lot of learning and improvements by everyone. For the amount of golf played by everyone before the season, the progress has been noticeable.”

Playing for the Jr. Blue Devils this season are Eli Bratton, Noah Attaway, Luke Berry, Caleb Peterson, Noah Jones, Hayden Hottinger, Kameron Bell and Carson Woodward. Playing for the Jr. Lady Devil team is Leslie Calain.

Renfro also said the middle school program will be an asset to the golf program at the high school.

“The teaching of the game at UCMS will help as the student-athletes come to UCHS to play to be prepared more quickly,” Renfro said. “Hopefully, it makes the program better as a whole.”

School officials and a local golf course have been key supporters of the new program, according to the head coach.

“I would like to thank the administration for adding the sport and the Erwin Elks for use of their facilities for practice and matches,” Renfro said.

The next match for the UCMS golfers is scheduled for Thursday, April 4, at Warriors Path.

Middle school track teams ready to compete at first meet

The Unicoi County Middle School Jr. Blue Devil and Jr. Lady Devil track teams. (Contributed photo by Tim Higgins)

By Keeli Parkey

The coaches and athletes of the Unicoi County Middle School track programs are anxious to see competition.

“Our kids have worked very hard this preseason,” Jr. Blue Devil head coach Jason Hensley said. “The weather has played havoc with our preparation this year, but it has been the same for everyone. I feel like our kids are ready to compete.”

The first meet of the season is yet to happen for the squads, as inclement weather has kept the athletes off the track.

“The weather has played havoc with our schedule,” Hensley said. “We have been rained out or canceled by cold in all three of our scheduled meets so far.”

Assuming the weather cooperates, the middle school teams will compete at Science Hill on Thursday, March 28. 

“This will be tough competition, but we are looking forward to getting on a true rubberized track and seeing what we can do,” Hensley said. 

Hensley said “a ton” of experience returns to the Jr. Blue Devils team for the 2019 season.

“Many of our kids competed for our varsity last year,” Hensley said. “We expect to be very competitive in several events this year. They have all improved and we only anticipate them getting better as the season goes on.”

Two events where Hensley expects the team to be successful is in the 4×200 and 4×100 races. 

“Our boys 4×200 and 4×100 teams were top 4 in the region before an injury ended their season,” Hensley said. “All four of those guys are back – Nolan Bennett, Esteban Mendoza, Samuel Berry and Caleb Palaez-Luna. This year they are joined by Hunter Clouse who has been a great addition to our sprinter program.”

Mendoza will also be a leader in field events.  

“Esteban was also a top 10 discus thrower in the region and will be competing in both the shot and disc this season,” Hensley said.

Leading the way for the distance runners will be sixth grader Keilet Rodriguez, who qualified for the middle state cross country meet last fall, and seventh grader Luke Capps.

The Jr. Lady Devils have only one starter returning to the team this season.

“We expect this to be a learning year for them,” Hensley said. “Our goal for them is to improve every time we run. We have already seen progress with them in practice and are excited to see how they develop.”

Eighth grader Macy Robinson is expected to be a standout in both the shot and discus events.

“She’ll be joined by newcomer eighth grader Annie White as a thrower,” Hensley said. “Newcomer Karina Lopez will be joined by sixth graders Noelle Farnor, Briana Butler and Melissa Reynoso as our sprinters. Sixth grader Reagan Worley heads our girls distance runners.”

Lauren Trivette serves as the head coach of the girls team. Trivette works with the programs’ distance runners and throwers, while Hensley coaches the sprinters.

The Jr. Blue Devil team includes Nolan Bennett, Samuel Berry, Cedric Booker, Luke Capps, Ryder Casey, Eli Cleghorn, Hunter Clouse, Kevin Espinoza, Kaden Hodge, Blaise Holt, Juan Lopez, Luke McIntosh, Esteban Mendoza, Caleb Palaez, Jorge Raygoza, Keilet Rodriguez, Branson Salts, Garrett Sellars and Conner Tipton.

The Jr. Lady Devil squad includes Emma Briggs, Danielle Bryant, Brianna Butler, Karrah Dean, Noelle Farnor, Madalin Huskins, Avery Jones, Karina Lopez, Mary Pendleton, Victoria Ponce, Melissa Reynoso, Macy Robinson, Annie White and Reagan Worley.

The teams are also scheduled to compete at Greeneville Middle on April 4 and April 8 and at Science Hill on April 12.

Coach has high expectations for 2019

The 2019 Unicoi County High School Blue Devil baseball team includes, pictured from left, back row, assistant coach Ben Peterson, assistant coach Travis Griffith, L.J. Mitchell, Brett Strother, Peyton Whitson, Dakoda Bell, Robbie O’Dell, head coach Chad Gillis and assistant coach Keith Greer; front row, Kody Lewis, Jordan Bridges, Darren Soulier, Kaleb Metcalf, Caleb Crain, Keaton Casey, Ramon Avila, Garrett Manuel and Drew Keasling. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

Keeping with tradition, the expectations are high for the Unicoi County High School baseball team in the 2019 season.

“As we do every year, I expect to be in the top of the conference during the regular season,” Blue Devil head coach Chad Gillis told The Erwin Record. “I feel like we have the ability to compete and win within the conference.”

The 2018 season saw the Blue Devils post a record of 20-15 and take second place in the District 1-AA tournament before being eliminated by Greeneville – the team that finished tops in the 2018 state tournament.

“I feel like we had a good season last year,” Gillis said. “Sure, we didn’t go as far as we wanted/expected to, but we battled and accomplished some goals. Getting put out by Greeneville, the eventual state champs, was disappointing because we felt like we were evenly matched, but that’s the game of baseball. If we work on our mental approach/toughness I could foresee us being as successful as we want to be.”

Key to the Blue Devils’ success in 2019 will be pitching, according to Gillis.

“Pitching sets the tone for every game.  We have two, experienced starters going on Mondays and Tuesdays in Peyton Whitson and Keyton Casey,” Gillis said. “If we have strong pitching, I feel like we can play with anybody. We have yet to see how much offense we can consistently produce, because the lack of scrimmages, but I feel like it will all depend on our pitching and defense. We can manufacture runs, but our success will depend on pitching and defense.”

Whitson, a junior, and Casey, a senior, will be the starting pitchers for Three Rivers Conference games.

“They both have strong arms and are seasoned guys that know how to win,” Gillis said.

Other pitchers will be senior Caleb Crain, senior Brett Strother, junior Darren Soulier, sophomore Kaleb Metcalf, sophomore Jordan Bridges, sophomore Robbie O’Dell and junior Ramon Avila.

“We have some good arms and a lot of guys that know how to induce ground ball and fly ball outs,” Gillis said. “Getting varsity experience over the next few months will be key for our younger pitchers, but they have the talent to compete day in and day out.”

The 2019 Blue Devil team is a mix of experience and inexperience.

“We have some strong, experienced returners. Strother and Casey in the outfield helps us to have a very fast outfield with two strong arms,” Gillis said. “Pitching will be a strength, but could also be a weakness in that we will be throwing a lot of young arms late in the week. We are starting four or five guys each game that have never started or played a varsity game. I can see us improving with the guys we have, but we are just going to have to get those young guys game reps. Our returning upperclassmen must help teach/coach these guys throughout the season. They have to be the ones to set the example on how each position is played and the work that must go into being successful.”

The UCHS defense will include senior Drew Keasling, junior Dakoda Bell and Crain behind the plate.

“Drew was a spot starter last year and has done a great job so far as the everyday starter,” Gillis said.

Junior L.J. Mitchell will start at third base. O’Dell and Keasling will both see time there. Avila, Crain and O’Dell will all see time at shortstop.

“Ramon played some second base last year and has transitioned well to the shortstop position,” Gillis said. “Caleb Crain, Jordan Bridges and Robbie O’Dell will share time and second base. Caleb is a returning starter at second base. He has done a great job over the last two years.”

Playing at first base will be senior Garrett Manuel, Whitson and Metcalf.

“Our outfield will consist of Brett Strother, Keaton Casey, Darren Soulier, Jordan Bridges, (junior) Kody Lewis and Peyton Whitson,” Gillis said. “Casey, Strother and Whitson are all returning starters in the outfield, but all will see some time based on our pitching situation.”

The Blue Devils should also be solid offensively.

“We have a competitive lineup,” Gillis said. “The key will be to get guys on base for Strother, Manuel, Whitson and Casey.  We do have some power with these four guys and we will count on the other five to find ways on base. Caleb Crain and Ramon Avila will be atop the lineup, both being contact guys that know how to put the ball in play. Drew Keasling is a returner who had some big games offensively as a junior.”

Leading the way for the team will be its seniors – Crain, Manuel, Strother, Keasling and Casey.

“All of the seniors have had success in previous seasons and will play a major role this season,” Gillis said. “We not only depend on their talent and play, but their leadership will be needed with so many young guys getting playing time. This is a great group of seniors who have worked hard during their time in the program.”

The Blue Devils will compete in a league against Elizabethton, Happy Valley, Johnson County, Sullivan Central, Sullivan East and Sullivan South.

“Elizabethton has multiple returners who had a lot of playing time last season,” Gillis said. “They are probably the favorite, but I feel like the rest of the conference is decently even. I feel like we can beat anybody in our conference if we play to our ability and limit mistakes and freebies. In my five years, it has always come down to the last week of games to determine conference championships. I don’t see that being any different this year.”

Serving as assistant coaches this season are Keith Greer, Travis Griffith, Ben Peterson and Greg Van Tassel.

As the 2019 season moves ahead, Gillis said the team and coaching staff appreciate the backing of the community.

“I just want to thank the community for all of the donations and support we have been given,” Gillis said.

The Blue Devils opened the 2019 season on March 11 with a 7-3 Three Rivers Conference victory over Sullivan South.

“I was really unsure of what to expect today,” Gillis said. “We only had the chance to scrimmage one time in the preseason and that was the first week. This is also a newer group of guys with the varsity and the first start for many of them.”

Whitson got the win on the mound. He gave up 3 hits and struck out 6. He also went 3-3 at the plate with one double.

“Peyton dominated on the mound the entire game,” Gillis said. “He kept South at bay long enough for us to finally put crooked numbers on the board.”

The Blue Devil defense was key to the victory.

“We played well defensively also,” Gillis said. “L.J. Mitchell had multiple putouts late in the game. Ramon Avila and Caleb Crain turned a big double play to end a possible rally. First time starters, Kaleb Metcalf and Jordan Bridges also did a great job offensively and defensively.”

The Blue Devil hitters also did good work at the plate.

“I felt like we really worked their pitchers and ran pitch counts up early in the game,” Gillis said. “We battled at the plate and had some guys step up when we had runners on base. For the first game, I was proud of the way we competed and battled for seven innings.”

Manuel had a 3-run homerun in the win. Metcalf was 2-2 at the plate.   

The following day, South got revenge for the previous loss with a 9-1 victory over the Blue Devils at South.

“South’s pitcher really shut us down the entire game,” Gillis said. “We got to him a little in the second inning, but he only gave up one run. We really couldn’t get into a groove offensively.”

Crain started the game and took the loss for UCHS. Strother, Keasling and Avila each had one hit.

The Blue Devils were scheduled to host Sullivan East on Monday, March 18, then travel to East the following day. They will host Daniel Boone at Baxter Field at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 21, then travel to David Crockett on Friday, March 22, at 5:30 p.m. They are also scheduled to travel to Madison County on Monday, March 25, for a game beginning at 7 p.m.

Lingerfelt expects another successful season

The 2019 Unicoi County High School Lady Devil softball program includes, pictured from left, back row, Bella Bogart, Alison Hensley, Gabby Davis, Jimena Rodriguez, Kaylia Street, Caroline Podvin, Ashtan Vance, Samantha Chavez, Leah Edney, Abbie Grindstaff, Kiley Bennett and Kaylee Lamb; middle row, Kerstin Buchanan, Betsabe Chavez, assistant coach Pat Goddard, head coach Grady Lingerfelt, assistant coach Ray Webb, assistant coach Tanya Chavez, Hannah Shelton and Rachel Hatcher; front row, Carly Kinsler, Chloe Powers, Allee Griffith and Cassie Selvage; not pictured, Halie Hawkins. (Photo contributed by Anthony Piercy)

By Keeli Parkey

The 2019 Unicoi County High School softball team will be replacing six starters from a team that hosted a substate game last season. But head coach Grady Lingerfelt believes the group of Lady Devils has what it takes to continue to be successful.

“Our returning players are very good,” Lingerfelt told The Erwin Record. “I think we can be a very good team.”

Leading the way for the Lady Devils this season will be a group of five seniors – Allee Griffith, Halie Hawkins, Carly Kinsler, Chloe Powers and Cassie Selvage. Griffith will be the team’s main pitcher and throw most games this season. When not pitching, Griffith will play at first base. She will also hit cleanup. Hawkins, who is splitting time between the softball and track programs this spring, returns as the Lady Devils’ catcher and leadoff hitter. Kinsler will play first base and Selvage will play second. Powers will play in leftfield and may also pitch.

Also expected to start on varsity this season for the Lady Devils are junior Kiley Bennett at third base, junior Ashtan Vance in right field, sophomore Samantha Chavez in centerfield and freshman Betsabe Chavez at shortstop.

“We are a very good defensive team,” Lingerfelt said. “We have a good player at every position.”

These nine players are expected to play varsity day-in and day-out, but there are several other players who are also expected to see varsity time. Junior Abbie Grindstaff will pitch varsity innings. Her fellow juniors, Bella Bogart, Gabby Davis, Kaylee Lamb and Kaylia Street are also on varsity and will play on the junior varsity squad, as well.

“That will give them a lot of experience,” Lingerfelt said.

The sophomore class includes Leah Edney, Alison Hensley and Caroline Podvin. Freshmen on the team are Kerstin Buchanan, Rachel Hatcher, Jimena Rodriguez and Hannah Shelton.

“They are all good kids,” Lingerfelt said.

To make it late in the postseason, the Lady Devils will need to play well in all facets of the game. “Pitching is key,” Lingerfelt said. “But, we have to play good defense and hit the ball. We have to do all of that well.”

Serving as assistant coaches this season are Pat Goddard, Ray Webb and Tanya Chavez.

The Lady Devils will again compete in a conference against Elizabethton, Happy Valley, Johnson County, Sullivan Central, Sullivan East and Sullivan South.

Lingerfelt said Sullivan East was a preseason favorite to win the league with his team and Elizabethton also competing for the title.

A rainy preseason limited preparations for the 2019 season, but that hasn’t stopped Lingerfelt’s team from being successful early in the season – winning the first three games – despite not hitting the ball as well as they can.

“Rain really limited us,” Lingerfelt said. “We haven’t hit real well because we didn’t get to see live pitching much. Both of our play days got rained out.”

The head coach said he expects the team to find a rhythm at the plate sooner rather than later.

“They can all hit,” Lingerfelt said.

The Lady Devils opened the 2019 season with a 6-1 conference victory over Johnson County in Erwin on March 12. Griffith got the win for UCHS with 8 strikeouts. She also went 2-3 at the plate with a homerun and 2 RBIs. Hawkins was 3-4 at the plate. Samantha Chavez had a solo homerun. Vance and Bennett (2 RBIs) each had 2 hits. Powers had 1 hit.

The team earned another conference win at Sullivan Central on March 14. A 10-run third inning and 17 total hits in the game lifted the Lady Devils to a 14-1 victory.

Powers had 5 RBIs on 3 hits, including a triple in the win. Hawkins and Selvage were both 3-3 at the plate with an RBI each. Kinsler had 2 hits and 2 RBIs. Samantha Chavez and Street each had 1 hit and 1 RBI. Bennett had 1 RBI. Griffith earned the win and gave up only 3 hits.

On Monday, March 18, the Lady Devils trounced Sullivan East – the preseason favorite to win the conference – 13-2. Lingerfelt’s team took control of the game with a 7-run second inning and closed the game with a 4-run fifth inning.

Hawkins went 3-3 with a homerun and 4 RBIs in the win. Kinsler had 3 hits with 2 RBIs. Selvage (2 RBIs), Griffith (1 RBI) and Powers (1 RBI) each had 2 hits. Samantha Chavez (1 RBI), Betsabe Chavez, Vance and Bennett (1 RBI) each had 1 hit.

The Lady Devils hosted Happy Valley in conference action on Tuesday, March 19, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue.

They are scheduled to host Science Hill on Wednesday, March 20, and travel to Sullivan South on Thursday, March 21; both games are scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m.

The Lady Devils will end the week playing in the East Tennessee Classic on Friday, March 22, and Saturday, March 23,

They will play in the annual Eastman Tournament from March 28-March 31.

Coach: ‘We have a seasoned team’

The 2019 Unicoi County High School Blue Devil soccer team includes, back row, pictured from left, assistant coach Victor Chirica, Jordan Hensley, Thomas Byrd, Lupe Sandoval, Javier Castellon, Daniel Meza, John Andrade, Juan Ponce, Victor Reynosa, Tristian Avila, Bryan Espinoza, manager Ernesto Soto and head coach Justin Ciralsky; front row, Demecio Rodriguez, Cesar Soto, Juan Andrade, Miguel Vasquez, Daniel Raygosa, Jose Ramirez, Jesus Perez, Matt Hensley, Armando Saldana and Ivan Padilla; not pictured Eloy Garcia, Jason Guterrez and Martin Porras. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

After ending the 2018 season with a loss in the district tournament, the Unicoi County High School Blue Devil soccer team is working hard to improve on those results.

“We have been conditioning throughout the year and the boys have been getting together on their own and playing throughout the year,” head coach Justin Ciralsky told The Erwin Record. “We had a very rainy preseason so practice has been tough. We have been very creative in finding places to practice so we are excited for the nice weather to come.”

An experienced squad will take the field for Ciralsky this season.

“We have a seasoned team with lots of senior leadership,” Ciralsky said. “Their experience and leadership will be essential to our success this season. Our expectations are to continue to grow throughout the season and make it to the state tournament.”

This season is just the fourth in the history of the UCHS soccer program. While the team has had success, including a district championship and substate berth in 2017, player development is a challenge, according to Ciralsky.

“One of our biggest hurdles is player development,” he added. “We don’t currently have a feeder program so I have been pleased with this year’s team and how they are investing in the younger players at the high school and middle school.”

Seniors on the 2019 team this season are: Jordan Hensley, Jason Gutierrez, Daniel Meza, Demecio Rodriguez, Martin Porras, Juan Ponce and John Andrade.

“These seniors have now been with us for four years, so they know and understand the expectations and have worked hard to teach the new players how the program works,” Ciralsky said.

Players expected to make important contributions on offense for the Blue Devils this season are Daniel Meza, Martin Porras, Armando Saldana and Juan Ponce. Defensive contributors are expected to be goalie Bryan Espinoza, Miguel Vasquez, John Andrade, Demecio Rodriguez, Jason Gutierrez and Ivan Diaz.

The Blue Devils will compete in a conference against Elizabethton, Greeneville, Sullivan Central, Sullivan South and Volunteer.

“South and Elizabethton are always good games that are super important for the conference tournament,” Ciralsky said.

Two factors will be key to the Blue Devils’ success in 2019.

“Hard work and focus,” Ciralsky said. “Stand as one is more than a motto. It’s our expectation for the year. We don’t have one or two players who are the stars of the team. We are developing the whole team and we will win and lose as one.”

Other players on the 2019 Blue Devil soccer team are: freshman Bryan Espinoza, freshman Ivan Padilla, sophomore Miguel Vasquez, sophomore Matt Hensley, sophomore Thomas Byrd, junior Armando Saldana, sophomore Lupe Sandoval, sophomore Daniel Raygosa, sophomore Javier Castellon, sophomore Jesus Perez, freshman Tristian Avila, sophomore Jose Ramirez, freshman Victor Reynosa, freshman Cesar Soto and sophomore Eloy Garcia.

Serving as an assistant coach again this season is Victor Chirica.

The Blue Devils opened the season with a 2-1 loss to Union High School on March 12 in Erwin.

“We were not focused and we didn’t take the game seriously,” Ciralsky said. “The other team exploited that. They took four shots and scored 2. We took 34 shots and scored 1.”

Ciralsky’s team bounced back on March 14 with a 7-2 victory over KACHEA at home. The Blue Devils held a 5-0 lead at halftime.

“We played much better,” he said. “We moved the ball well and were focused throughout the game.”

In the second half, Ciralsky was able to play the team’s less experienced players.

“It was good experience for them,” Ciralsky said.

They were scheduled to host Greeneville on Tuesday, March 19, and University High in Erwin at 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 21. They will also host Volunteer on Tuesday, March 26, at 6 p.m.

Experience returns for UCHS tennis program

The 2019 Unicoi County High School Lady Devil tennis team includes, back row, pictured from left, Taylor Thomas, Katlyn Higgins, Katherine Altemose, Kate Hollenbeck and head coach Johnathan Kenney; front row, Natalia Hernandez, Lily Hollenbeck, Meagan Buskey and Bernice Luquin; not pictured, Brandolyn Thomas and Lydia McNabb. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

The 2019 Unicoi County High School Blue Devil tennis team includes, pictured from left, Daniel Shults, Ben Hensley, Austin O’Dell, Shane Armstrong, Aaron Manzanares and head coach Johnathan Kenney; not pictured, Ty Thelen and Matthew Sutphin. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

Despite a preseason that was less than ideal, head coach Johnathan Kenney is hopeful that the 2019 tennis season will be a strong one for the Unicoi County High School squads.

“We have had a few kids go take some private lessons and had a few practices,” Kenney told The Erwin Record. “Weather has been really rough on us to start the season; between the wet weather and only having two courts, it has been a struggle.”

Luckily, the team has a mix of experienced players and new athletes, which Kenney said will be assets

“Four of our seven boys and eight of our 10 girls are returning players. So, experience this year is stronger for us than it was last year,” Kenney said. “We were able to get some multi-sport athletes to come out this year, and I believe that will prove to be a big help.”

Leading the way for the Lady Devils will be junior Brandonlyn Thomas and senior Taylor Thomas.

“I expect Brandolyn and Taylor to play well for us this year and be competitive in most of their matches,” Kenney said. “(Junior) Kate (Hollenbeck) has shown some improvement also, and is looking to move up in the roster.”

Also on the ladies’ team this season are: senior Katherine Altemose, sophomore Meagan Buskey, junior Natalia Hernandez, junior Katlyn Higgins, freshman Lily Hollenbeck, junior Bernice Luquin and junior Lydia McNabb. 

Seniors Aaron Manzanares and Ben Hensley are expected to lead the way for the Blue Devils.

“Aaron has really improved and Ben is also a competitive player for us,” Kenney said. “I also expect (senior) Shane Armstrong and (senior) Austin O’Dell to contribute early. (Sophomores) Daniel Shults and Matthew Sutphin have both improved from last year, and (senior) Ty Thelen is getting better every day.”

The Blue Devils and Lady Devils will compete in a conference against Tennessee High, Dobyns-Bennett, Science Hill, Sullivan Central, Volunteer, Sullivan South, Sullivan East and Elizabethton.

“Some big matches for us will be Sullivan Central, Elizabethton, Sullivan East and then our non-conference schedule,” Kenney said.

The head coach expects his squads to rise to the challenges of this season.

“I expect us to be competitive in most of our matches this year,” Kenney said. “Tennessee High, Science Hill and Dobyns-Bennett are all very tough teams to play with. But after that, I hope that we can compete strongly against the rest of the teams on our schedule.”

The UCHS netters were scheduled to travel to Science Hill on Tuesday, March 19. The Lady Devils are scheduled to host Happy Valley on Tuesday, March 26, at Fishery Park. Both teams are scheduled to compete at Volunteer on March 28.

UC alum given reins of track program

The 2019 Unicoi County High School Lady Devil track team includes, pictured from left, back row, assistant coach Cameron Higgins, assistant coach Samuel Bratton, head coach Thad Higgins and assistant coach Bettina Chirica; middle row, Mirand Avila, Kayla Hicks, Halie Hawkins, Iliana Martinez-Lopez, Natalia Mendoza; front row, Cheyenne Wilson, Clarita Ozuna, Rachel Altemose and Cynthia Mendoza. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

The 2019 Unicoi County High School Blue Devil track team includes, pictured from left, back row, assistant coach Cameron Higgins, assistant coach Samuel Bratton, head coach Thad Higgins and assistant coach Bettina Chirica; middle row, Nathan Lincoln, Adam Lewis and Phoenix Holt; front row, Wyatt Miller, John Campbell, Danny Lowery and Kenneth Perciful. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

A Unicoi County High School graduate now has the reins of the Blue Devil and Lady Devil track programs.

“I am so proud and so humbled at the same time to be able to coach Unicoi County track and field,” new head coach Thad Higgins told The Erwin Record. “I ran track in middle school and high school for Unicoi, which has made it incredible that I’ve been able to return years later as a coach for the program I’ve loved.”

Higgins credits two former UCHS head coaches with where he and the program are in 2019.

“I’ve also got to say a huge thanks to my coaching mentor, coach Randy Brewer. Coach Brewer was my coach throughout high school and there were multiple times he went out of his way to help me succeed as a person and as an athlete,” Higgins said. “When I became a coach myself, he continued to help me develop as a coach and has greatly assisted the Unicoi program as well.

“The last few years I’ve been coaching as an assistant coach with Megan Davis. Coach Davis really did an excellent job of building the program up and putting us in a great position. This experience has really helped me as I’ve taken over the program this year and it’ll certainly continue to pay dividends throughout this season.”

Higgins brings a love of the program and sport to UCHS.

“I love Track and Field,” he said. “I’ve been passionate about it since I started running at 8 years old. I ran track at Milligan College and I’ve continued to run on my own. I’m so blessed that I get to share this passion with my athletes and I look forward to helping them discover their talents, gain confidence and compete.”

Preparations for the 2019 season began as early as last fall, according to Higgins.

“We began having optional preseason workouts in October. Several events have such technical aspects involved that we’ve got to start practicing them very early if we want to be able to compete in our first few meets,” he added. “Mainly we spent this time working with our pole vaulters and then some throwers began joining us early this semester. I always tell our distance runners to take the winter months off so they get some rest after cross country; however, they started trickling back in about a month before official practice began.”

For the Blue Devils, Higgins expects there can be standout performances.

 “We’re really going to be looking for individual successes this year,” he said. “We’ve got several returners that I’m excited to see succeed and become leaders for the rest of the team. There are also some new faces who certainly have great potential.”

One returning athlete with a lot of experience on the track and in cross country is senior John Campbell.

“John is another returning senior who has already been working diligently,” Higgins said. “John actually came to me last semester – when he was supposed to be taking time off – and began asking for workouts. I’m excited to see John return to running distance for us, and maybe even trying his hand at some unfamiliar events.”

Higgins said he expects junior Kenneth Perciful to have an impact in field events this season, along with sophomore Lady Devil Iliana Martinez Lopez.

“They have also been hard at work since before the season began,” Higgins said. “We’ve had several new throwers join the team this year, so it’s been very helpful to have the experience and dedication that Iliana and Kenny have brought to the team.”

Completing the Blue Devil team this season are junior Phoenix Holt, sophomore Adam Lewis, freshman Nathan Lincoln, senior Danny Lowery, sophomore Wyatt Miller and senior Austin O’Dell.

The Lady Devils are also ready to turn in solid results this season.

“Similar to the guys’ side, I’ve been really happy already to see how our girls who have returned have stepped up to set really high expectations this year,” Higgins said. “(Senior) Halie Hawkins and (sophomore) Rachel Altemose have been working on pole vault for months now and it’s modeling this level of dedication that will make us successful this season.”

Hawkins earned a tie for fourth place in the state pole vault competition as a sophomore in 2017 and just missed out on another state berth by one place last season. 

“Halie has been hard at work already,” Higgins said. “This is just one way she’s stepped up as a leader to show others what it takes to get better. As our most experienced vaulter she’s also begun to help the younger vaulters and has been a great motivator when they’ve struggled with a difficult drill. I believe I’ve even heard her called ‘coach Hawkins’ a couple times. Needless to say, we’re excited to see how far she makes it this season.”

Completing the Lady Devil team this season are sophomore Kayla Hicks, sophomore Cynthia Mendoza, senior Natalia Mendoza, junior Clarita Ozuna and junior Cheyenne Wilson.

Serving as assistant coaches with the track program this season will be Samuel Bratton, Bettina Chirica and Cameron Higgins.

“We’re very lucky to have three experienced coaches this season,” Higgins said. 

Chirica teaches at Unicoi County Middle School, played soccer at Milligan College and is the head coach of the UCHS Lady Devil soccer team. Bratton ran cross country and track at Milligan. Cameron Higgins, who is Thad’s brother, is also a UCHS graduate and is currently on the Milligan track team as a thrower. 

“I’m very excited to have the knowledge and experience that each of our coaches brings to the team,” Higgins said. “I’ve already been able to see the impact that each coach is having, and I’m looking forward to seeing our athletes respond.”

The UCHS track teams opened the 2019 season with a meet at Science Hill on Monday, March 18. 

“This one is important because it will help us figure out where some of our newcomers fit,” Higgins said. “I’m sure we’ll be trying everyone in several different events at this meet.”

Competition will continue in the coming weeks.

“We will be competing in several big meets such as the DB Texas Roadhouse Relays and the Tri-Cities Classic at Science Hill,” Higgins said. “However, our most important goal is to qualify for sectionals. Athletes qualify for sectionals by running a certain time, throwing a certain distance, or jumping a specific distance/height. Once they qualify, they get to compete at sectionals which then gives them a shot at the state championship.”

Bob Moore remembered for success

Bob and Dottie Moore celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

Recently one of Unicoi County High School’s greatest athletes passed away. On Jan. 26, Bob Moore passed away peacefully and The Erwin Record reached out to local historian and author Lewis “Lou” Thornberry and Moore’s wife and talented artist Dottie Moore to share Moore’s story.

Bob Moore played among the best Unicoi County High School football players of all time. According to Thornberry, who played collegiately at Duke University, several players from UCHS, which was then known as Erwin High, went on to play collegiate football.

According to Thornberry, Moore had a stellar senior year on the gridiron for Erwin High in 1955. “He was all-state, made the All-East Tennessee teams picked by both Knoxville papers, won the Big Five scoring title with 121 points, and made the All-Big Five Teams as selected by the coaches and also by the Johnson City Press-Chronicle,” Thornberry said.

Thornberry wrote about Moore’s career in his book, “Remembering Old Erwin.”

“One of the best indicators of Moore’s break-away ability is revealed in the four touchdowns he scored on punt returns; 95 yards, 73 yards, 72 yards and 55 yards,” Thornberry said.

According to Thornberry, Moore also completed eight touchdown passes, which were not included in his points scored total. Four of his longer touchdown passes were for 75 yards, 56 yards, 49 yards and 30 yards.

“Moore was the tailback on that successful 1955 squad which finished the season with 10 wins and a single setback, but Bob’s football career didn’t end after that final 33-7 trouncing of Science Hill,” Thornberry said.

According to Thornberry, Moore was able to live out the dream of many high school football players, especially in Tennessee, when he accepted a collegiate football scholarship to the University of Tennessee.

“NCAA college football was different in the 1950s as freshmen weren’t eligible for varsity football, and most major colleges had freshman teams that played a limited schedule of their own,” Thornberry said.

Moore is listed as a Vol player in the UT-Vanderbilt Freshman Program for Oct. 26, 1956. In the program, Moore was 18 years old, listed as a tailback, weighed 172 pounds, and his hometown was Erwin, Tennessee.

“That’s another difference between college football today and 50 years ago,” Thornberry said. “Unlike today, 32 of the 40 players listed on the Tennessee freshman team were under 200 pounds.”

Even though freshmen couldn’t play in varsity games, they could practice against varsity players.

“The varsity that Moore and his teammates battled wasn’t just another team,” Thornberry said. The 1956 Vols went 10-1, losing only to Baylor in the Sugar Bowl. Coached by Bowden Wyatt and led by Johnny Majors and Bill Anderson, the Vols were ranked as high as second in the national poll.

“Throughout that 1956 season, Moore and his teammates provided offensive and defense opponents for the talented SEC champs,” Thornberry said.

According to Thornberry, Moore was redshirted during his sophomore year which meant he practiced in 1957, but he didn’t dress out with the varsity. This is still a common practice in college football to allow a student-athlete more time to train on the field and in the classroom.

According to Thornberry, the players must learn a wide variety of different formations on both sides of the ball as the practice squad. The 1957 varsity posted 8 wins and 3 losses with the final victory coming over Paul Bryant’s Texas A&M Aggies in the Gator Bowl.

“In 1958, Moore made the varsity as a wingback and he can be seen proudly wearing number 18 in the team photo,” Thornberry said.

According to Thornberry, a medical issue involving pneumonia ended Bob’s playing days after the 1958 season, but he remained at the University of Tennessee where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering in 1961.

It was at the University of Tennessee that Moore met his wife and life long companion, Dottie, through mutual friends. Dottie Moore, like Bob Moore, is very talented in her own right. Dottie Moore is a fiber artist that has traveled the world sharing her talent.

Dottie and Bob Moore spent 55 amazing years together. The Moores had two children, Jay Moore who resides in San Diego, and Holly Moore-Lohmann who resides in Bend, Oregon, with her two children, Quinn and Noa.

“Bob was the rock and the stability in the relationship,” Dottie said. “That allowed me to be a professional artist for 45 years.”

The Moores were able to travel together and according to Dottie, they were able to share lots of wonderful times together. Moore is remembered by his neighbors especially the furry ones.

“Bob is famous here for feeding treats to all the neighborhood dogs,” Dottie said.

Upon graduation, Moore worked for two years at Eastman in Kingsport. He then returned to his alma mater and earned a masters degree in Guidance and Counseling. According to Thornberry, Moore taught for nine years in Greeneville, Tennessee. He was then appointed to the principalship of the Greeneville Junior High School. He spent seven years in that position while earning his educational specialist degree in administration at East Tennessee State University.

Moore was offered a position at York Technical College in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

“He was offered the Community Education Coordinator position at York, which combined his skills in engineering, education and computers,” Dottie said.

According to Dottie, the position allowed Moore the opportunity to come up with the curriculum at the college to train future employees for the area companies.

According to Thornberry, during October 2006 Moore and 25 of those 1956 UT freshman teammates gathered for their 50th reunion in Knoxville, again showing their commitment to their colleagues and their university. Their special guest was Hall of Fame tailback and coach, Johnny Majors, who had inspired them as a freshman so many years ago.

Blue Devil basketball team loses heartbreaker at Greeneville

Gavin Casey goes up for a shot at Greeneville on Monday, Feb. 25. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

From Staff Reports

The 2018-19 season came to a disappointing end for the Unicoi County High School boys basketball team on Monday, Feb. 25.

“It was a heartbreaking loss to lose the way that game ended,” head coach Michael Smith said.

The Blue Devils (9-24) traveled to Greeneville, the number one seed from District 2-AA, after taking fourth place in the District 1-AA tournament. Monday’s game was the first of the Region 1-AA tournament and was a win-or-go-home contest.

Against the Green Devils (20-10) on Monday, Unicoi County held a 19-16 lead after the first quarter, then trailed, 29-27, at halftime.

“I thought we did a pretty good job defensively knowing where their scorers were. We made them make tough shots,” Smith said. “When we ran our offense, we were able to get exactly what we wanted.”

By the end of the third quarter, Greeneville stretched its advantage to 5 points, 53-48, thanks to a three-pointer at the buzzer by Connor Debusk.

“We got down 9 in the third and cut it to 2 before they hit that three,” Smith said. “We didn’t play well early in the third quarter. Then, we settled in and started playing like we had in the first half.”

Greeneville extended the lead to 9 points, 64-55, with just under five minutes to play. The Blue Devils then put together a run to take the lead.

“We changed our defense from zone to man-to-man and we made them take some tough shots,” Smith said. “We were also aggressive offensively and made some big free throws during that run.”

Brett Lingerfelt hit two free throws to make the score 64-57 for 3:45 on the clock. Following a missed free throw by the Green Devils, Brock Thompson was fouled and converted two free throws, which cut the lead to 5 points, 64-59, with 3 minutes to play.

Unicoi County then forced a missed shot by Greeneville. On the ensuing possession, Austin O’Dell grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on the putback for a 64-61 score with just over 2 minutes to play. Greeneville failed to score again, and again, the Blue Devils took advantage. This time, O’Dell sank two free throws for a 64-63 score.

Blue Devil Gavin Casey then came away with a steal and was fouled on the other end of the floor. Casey hit both free throws and Unicoi County took a 65-64 lead with 1:18 to play.

“That was a great job by Gavin to get that steal and get to the basket,” Smith said.

Greeneville then reclaimed the lead, 66-65, with 44 seconds to play on a bucket by Jaevon Gillespie.

Despite almost losing possession to a 10-second call, the Blue Devils managed to maintain possession, which allowed Casey to find Thompson on a backdoor cut for a layup. Thompson was fouled and converted the three-point play for a 68-65 Blue Devil lead with 20 seconds to play.

“It was a called play and we executed it,” Smith said.

For their last chance for the win, Greeneville went to Gillespie, who dribbled to the corner and launched a three-pointer that fell short. However, an official called a foul on the play and awarded Gillespie three free throws with 3 seconds to play.

“There are numerous other calls throughout a game, but the calls at the end of a game are the ones everyone remembers,” Smith said. “For that call to have been made then was just heartbreaking. We had played so hard to get back in the game and take the lead.”

Gillespie, who scored 28 points in the game, hit all three free throws, giving his team the cushion it needed to win the game and advance to the region semifinals. The Green Devils won the game, 71-68.

Thompson scored 22 points and had 6 rebounds in the loss to Greeneville. Casey scored 12. Caleb Adkins scored 8. O’Dell scored 8 and had 5 rebounds. Lingerfelt scored 7 (1 three-pointer) and had 4 assists. Ty Thelen scored 6 (2 three-pointers) and had 4 assists. Phoenix Holt scored 5.

Also on Monday, Johnson County defeated Chuckey-Doak, 62-47, in Afton. The Longhorns will play Elizabethton, who defeated Grainger, 48-41, on Monday, in the region semifinals at 4:30 p.m. at Happy Valley on Wednesday, Feb. 27.

Greeneville will play Sullivan South, who defeated South Greene, 79-70, on Saturday, Feb. 23, on Wednesday at 6 p.m.

The Region 1-AA championship game will be played at Happy Valley on Friday, March 1, at 7 p.m.

• • •

The Blue Devils fell to Johnson County, 67-58, in the consolation game of the District 1-AA tournament on Tuesday, Feb. 19, at Happy Valley.

Despite trailing most of the game, the Longhorns put together a 23 point fourth quarter, outscoring the Blue Devils by 13 points, to get the win.

“I thought we played well most of the game,” Smith said. “We didn’t close out the game like we needed to. Turnovers really hurt us in the fourth quarter.”

Casey had 16 points (1 three-pointer), 6 rebounds and 4 steals in the loss. Thompson had 13 (3 three-pointers). Danny Lowery scored 12. Lingerfelt scored 8 (2 three-pointers) and had 4 assists. Adkins scored 4 and had 5 rebounds. Thelen had 3 (1 three-pointer). O’Dell scored 2.

Thompson was selected to the District 1-AA tournament team.

• • •

The loss to Greeneville was the final game for Blue Devil seniors Austin O’Dell, Danny Lowery, Ty Thelen and Gavin Casey.

“They have the program going in the right direction for us,” Smith said. “They did a great job leading us this season. They are a great bunch of guys.”

Despite the loss and a tough season, Smith said he was proud of this group of Blue Devils.

“We didn’t have the season that we wanted to have, but we got it turned around late,” he said. “We played our best basketball at tournament time. We got some big wins in the district tournament and we were able to advance to the region. I don’t think there were a lot of people who thought we would make it to the region, but we did because our guys didn’t give up on the season.”

Loss to Rebels ends Lady Devil basketball season

Caroline Podvin drives to the goal at South Greene. The sophomore guard scored 20 points for the Lady Devils in the season-ending loss. (Contributed photo by Teresa Parkey)

By Richard Rourk

The 2018-19 basketball season has come to an end for the Unicoi County High School Lady Devils.

On Friday, Feb. 22, the Lady Devils traveled to South Greene to take on the District 2-AA champion Lady Rebels in the first round of the Region 1-AA tournament. The Lady Devils lost a hard-fought game, 83-66.

The Lady Devils got off to a fast start as sophomore Caroline Podvin scored 8 points early in the first quarter. Unfortunately for the Lady Devils, the Lady Rebels also got off to a solid start. Both teams took turns trading shots. Junior Ashtan Vance hit a three-pointer to give the Lady Devils a 16-15 late in the first quarter.

The Lady Rebels hit the court to start the second quarter with a 20-16 lead. The two programs took turns scoring and the Lady Rebels held a 33-27 lead with 4 minutes left in the first half. Senior Lady Devil Kaylee Hendrickson sank a three-pointer with 3:49 left in the half to cut the lead to 33-30. Senior Chloe Powers scored on a turnover to bring the Lady Rebels lead down to one point, 33-32. Vance scored from under the glass to give the Lady Devils their last lead of the game, 34-33 with 2:41 left in the half.

South Greene went on a late quarter run and took a 39-34 lead with 1:13 left in the half. Despite a deep three-point shot by senior Allee Griffith, the Lady Rebels held on to a 43-40 lead going into halftime.

The Lady Rebels pulled away in the third taking advantage of turnovers and missed shots by the Lady Devils as depth proved to be a liability in the second half.

“Our rotation of six players only forced us to play tired and we let them have that run in the third quarter, but played them even in the fourth,” head coach Kerri King told The Erwin Record.

Despite sophomore guard Tenley Holt sinking two foul shots at the end of the quarter for the Lady Devils, the Lady Rebels ended the third quarter with a 62-45 lead.

In the fourth quarter, the Lady Rebels continued to pull away despite a pair of Vance three-pointers. The Lady Rebels advanced to play Sullivan South in the second round of the Region 1-AA tournament. The winner of the South Greene and Sullivan South matchup will face the winner of the Elizabethton and Grainger game in the Region 1-AA finals.

Against South Greene, the Lady Devils were led by Podvin, who finished with 20 points. Podvin also had 12 rebounds and 3 steals.

Vance, who went 3-4 from beyond the three-point line, joined Podvin in double digits by putting up 15 points. Griffith capped off the night with 11 points.

“Allee (Griffith) probably had her best game of the season, and she alleviated so much pressure against their press,” King said.

Powers scored 9 points, Hendrickson put up 8 points and Holt contributed 3 points in the loss.

For the Lady Devils, the loss concluded a season that saw the Unicoi squad finish in third place in the Three Rivers Conference with a record of 16-13 and a conference record of 6-6. The preseason coaches poll had the Lady Devils finishing sixth out of seven at the beginning of the season.

“I couldn’t have asked for anything more from this team,” King said. 

The Lady Devils never stopped fighting from the opening tip of the first game all the way through the last buzzer of Friday’s loss.

“They left it all on the floor and played their hearts out,” King said.

For seniors Hendrickson, Powers and Griffith, the loss at South Greene was their final games as Lady Devils. The three will continue to be teammates next year, as all three have signed on with Milligan College. Hendrickson and Powers will be part of the Lady Buffalo basketball program, and Griffith will be taking her talents to the diamond, as she will be part of the Lady Buffalo softball program.

“Those seniors weren’t going down easy and they battled until the end,” King said.

Podvin, Holt and Vance will be back next season, which is great news for the Lady Devils as the three had an impressive run late in the season.

“Tenley (Holt) had an excellent floor game and handled pressure with maturity,” King said. “Caroline (Podvin) and Ashtan (Vance) played huge for us. They all looked like seasoned veterans and I am so proud of the growth they have shown this season.”

Blue Devil basketball team upsets Happy Valley, Sullivan East in district tournament

Brock Thompson makes his way around a Happy Valley defender during the District 1-AA tournament last week. The sophomore guard scored 15 points in the fourth quarter of the game
to give UCHS a 49-41 victory. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

From Staff Reports

The Unicoi County High School boys basketball team faced elimination from the postseason twice last week – and twice they survived.

“I thought we did a good job responding,” head coach Michael Smith said. “No one expected us to win those games. We told our players to play free and without pressure and that’s what they did.”

As the seventh-place team in the Three Rivers Conference, the Blue Devils (9-22) had to face Happy Valley (7-20), the sixth-place team, in a play-in game for the District 1-AA tournament at Happy Valley on Tuesday, Feb. 13.

The Blue Devils found themselves tied, 24-24, with the Warriors going into the fourth quarter in what had been a back-and-forth game.

“I thought both teams were doing a good job defensively in the first three quarters,” Smith said. “We know each other having played so much. You often see low scoring games in the tournament because of that.”

Following a jumper by Unicoi County’s Caleb Adkins, the Warriors took a brief lead, 27-26, on a three-pointer. Then, Brock Thompson took over the game for the Blue Devils. The sophomore gave UCHS the lead again with a bucket, then drained back-to-back three-pointers for a 34-27 advantage.

“Brock decided we weren’t going to lose and he led us to the win,” Smith said.

The Warriors came up empty on their next possession, then Gavin Casey scored for the Blue Devils. Thompson then stole the ensuing inbounds pass by Happy Valley and scored again to give UCHS a commanding 38-27 lead.

“That steal was a huge play,” Smith said. “Scoring four quick points like that really gave us momentum. It lifted us and deflated them.”

Although the Warriors kept fighting to get back in the game, the Blue Devils held on for a 49-41 win.

“I am proud of all our guys for playing hard in an elimination game,” Smith said.

Thompson scored 20 points (2 three-pointers), 15 of which came in the fourth quarter, to go with 5 rebounds and 3 assists in the win. Austin O’Dell scored 9 and had 13 rebounds. Casey scored 8 and had 5 rebounds. Brett Lingerfelt scored 5 (1 three-pointer) and had 3 steals. Danny Lowery scored 4 and had 4 rebounds. Adkins scored 2 and had 4 rebounds. Robbie O’Dell scored 1.

• • •

The victory over Happy Valley set the Blue Devils up to face Sullivan East (17-13), the number three seed in the tournament, on Friday, Feb. 15, at Happy Valley. It was another win-or-go-home game.

Facing a team that had defeated them twice this season, Smith’s team was down 6-0, but decided they weren’t ready to go home just yet.

“We fought back to take a 9-8 lead and we never trailed again,” Smith said.

The Blue Devils took a 16-11 lead at the end of the first quarter and held a 33-27 lead at the half.

“We did a really good job defensively taking them out of what they wanted to do,” Smith said. “We played zone, instead of playing man like we did in our two previous games against them. When we went to our 2-2-1 zone they had some quick turnovers.”

In the third quarter, a basket by Casey and a three-pointer by Thompson gave UCHS a 38-27 lead. The Patriots managed to cut that lead to 6 points, 43-37, before the Blue Devils closed the quarter on an 11-2 run, including a three-pointer at the buzzer by Thompson.

“We answered their runs all night and were able to hold onto the lead,” Smith said. “Brock’s three-pointer was a huge shot. It really gave us momentum.

The teams played almost even basketball in the fourth quarter and UCHS won the game, 70-53.

Thompson scored 29 (5 three-pointers) and had 6 rebounds and 3 assists in the win. Lingerfelt scored 14 (1 three-pointer) and had 3 assists and 3 rebounds in the game. Lowery had a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Casey scored 9 and had 4 assists and 3 rebounds. Ty Thelen (1 three-pointer) scored 3. Austin O’Dell scored 2 and had 8 rebounds. Adkins scored 2 and had 5 rebounds in the victory.

Not only did the win over East keep their season alive and advance them to the District 1-AA semifinals, it also gave the Blue Devils a berth in the Region 1-AA tournament.

“Being 7-21 at the end of the regular season, getting to the region looked bleak,” Smith said. “But, we are playing the best we have played all season. Playing the way we are right now is what you want. We are playing our best basketball at the right time.”

• • •

Awaiting the Blue Devils in the semifinals was Elizabethton, the tournament’s second seed. It was obvious in the first half that the Blue Devils had mostly run out of gas.

The Cyclones (21-6) raced out to an 18-10 lead after the first quarter and held a 34-26 lead at halftime.

“They did a great job defensively,” Smith said. “They made things hard for us. We did a good job of fighting back and keeping ourselves within striking distance. We were tired. We had done a lot to get to that game. Elizabethton was fresh and they are athletic.”

The Blue Devils cut the lead to 9 points in the fourth quarter, but the Cyclones were able to stall any chances of a comeback as they won the game, 55-38.

Casey scored 11 points and had 3 rebounds in the loss. Lowery had 9 points and 10 rebounds. Lingerfelt scored 6 (2 three-pointers) and had 3 rebounds. Thompson scored 5 (1 three-pointer). Thelen scored 3 (1 three-pointer). Adkins scored 3 (1 three-pointer) and had 3 rebounds. Phonex Holt scored 1.

• • •

The loss to Elizabethton in the semifinals sent the Blue Devils to the consolation game where they faced the Johnson County Longhorns, the tournament’s top seed, on Tuesday, Feb. 20, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline. The Longhorns (23-5) were upset by Sullivan South (20-11) in the district semifinal. Elizabethton and South played for the district crown on Tuesday.

Win or lose to Johnson County, the Blue Devils will travel to either Chuckey-Doak or Greeneville to open the Region 1-AA tournament on Saturday, Feb. 23, at 7 p.m. A loss on Saturday will end the season for UCHS. With a win on Saturday, the Blue Devils will continue region play on Tuesday at Happy Valley.

Lady Devil basketball takes fourth place in district tournament

Allee Griffith drives to the goal against Johnson County during the District 1-AA tournament at Happy Valley. Griffith scored 9 points in the Lady Devils’ win. (Contributed photo by Teresa Parkey)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County High School girls basketball team entered the 2019 District 1-AA Tournament hosted by Happy Valley listed as the three seed on Thursday, Feb. 14. The Valentine’s Day opponent was the Johnson County Lady Longhorns, the seventh seed, who upset the Sullivan East Lady Patriots, the sixth seed, the previous night.

The Lady Devils jumped out to the early lead, 19-14, in the first quarter, but only managed 5 points in the second quarter as ball control issues plagued the Lady Devils in the second quarter. The Lady Longhorns went into halftime with a 27-24 lead.

The Lady Devils made necessary adjustments at halftime and followed the lead of sophomore guard Caroline Podvin, who hit a key three-pointer with 4:03 left in the third to give UCHS a 33-32 lead. The crowd came alive following the three and the Lady Devils capitalized to take a 41-38 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

The Lady Devils carried the momentum into the fourth and played very aggressive on both sides of the ball. When the final buzzer sounded, the Lady Devils walked out of Bayless Gym with a 58-50 victory over Johnson County.

Podvin led the Lady Devils with 15 points, while junior guard Ashtan Vance finished the night with 10 points. Senior guard Kaylee Hendrickson and senior post Allee Griffith put up 9 points each for the Lady Devils. Senior guard Chloe Powers scored 8 points, and sophomore guard Tenley Holt ended the night with 7 points in the victory.

“I thought our push in transition in the third quarter changed the momentum and when we opened up the floor Chloe (Powers) got loose and the girls did a great job finding her,” Coach Kerri King told The Erwin Record.

Powers scored 6 of her 8 points in the fourth quarter via two threes.

• • •

The Lady Devils hit a roadblock on Saturday, Feb. 16, when facing the number two seeded Lady Rebels of Sullivan South. The Lady Rebels cruised to a 71-54 victory and a spot in the District 1-AA Championship that was played on Monday, Feb. 18.

The Lady Rebels took advantage of the cold start from the Lady Devils and never looked back. Hendrickson picked up two fouls early in the first quarter. Powers was able to hit a three-pointer to cut the lead to 17-9 with 1:03 left in the first quarter.

The Lady Rebels entered the second quarter with a 19-9 lead and that is when South rallied behind the hot hand of Alex Harris, who ended up sinking five three-pointers in the first half of play and scored 25 points on the night.

The Lady Rebels took the lead into halftime by a score of 39-22. Vance, Podvin, and Holt all sank three-pointers in the third quarter, but the Lady Rebels countered and held a 51-38 lead entering the fourth quarter.

Griffith hit a three with 47 seconds left to play, but it was too little, too late for the Lady Devils, who ended up losing 71-54.

Leading the way for the Lady Devils was Podvin who scored 19 points. Powers and Holt scored 9 points each in the loss. Griffith scored 7. Hendrickson and Vance each scored 5.

The loss placed the Lady Devils in the consolation game against the Sullivan Central Lady Cougars, the tournament’s top seed. The Lady Cougars were upset in the second round of the District 1-AA tournament by the Elizabethton Lady Cyclones. The Lady Cyclones are the only Three Rivers Conference team to beat Sullivan Central this year and they have done so twice in a two-week span. The Lady Cyclones played the Lady Rebels for the District 1-AA Championship on Monday, Feb. 18.

• • •

The Lady Devils lost a heartbreaker against the Lady Cougars of Sullivan Central on Monday, Feb. 18. The Lady Devils led the whole game, but lost the lead with a little more than a minute to play. The Lady Cougars won 62-59 to take third place in the District 1-AA tournament.

The Lady Devils hit the floor running and jumped out to a 13-8 lead to end the first quarter. The Lady Devils held Peyton Sams to 2 points and post Abby Crawford to 1 point in the first quarter. The duo for Central remained quiet until the fourth quarter when Sams erupted for 11 points and Crawford put up 10 points. Crawford finished the night with 19 points and Sams put up 17 points on the night.

The Lady Devils held onto the lead, 32-19 going, into halftime. Griffith started the third quarter with a three-pointer from way downtown to fire up the crowd. The Lady Devils and Lady Cougars took turns sinking buckets to bring the score to 44-35 in favor of Unicoi County going into the fourth quarter.

Sams hit a key three-pointer in the fourth to tie the game up for the first time 56-56 with 1:05 left. The Lady Cougars took the lead when a foul by Powers sent Sams to the foul line with 34.4 seconds left. Sams sank both free throws to put the Lady Cougars up 58-56.

The Lady Devils regained the lead, 59-58, when Podvin hit a three-pointer from the corner with 23.5 left in the fourth. Sams then scored to put the Lady Cougars up 60-59.

After a missed shot by the Lady Devils, Sams was fouled with 3 seconds left and sank both foul shots to give the Lady Cougars a 62-59 lead. The Lady Devils were not able to score on a last-second shot, and the Lady Cougars held on to win 62-59.

Hendrickson and Holt led the Lady Devils with 16 points each. Griffith put up 11 points and Podvin scored 10 points in the loss. Vance scored 4 points and Powers finished the night with 2 points.

In the District 1-AA championship game, the fifth seed Elizabethton Lady Cyclones pulled the upset over the Sullivan South Lady Rebels by a score of 56-42.

The District 1-AA All-Tournament team included: Podvin from Unicoi County; Crawford and Sams from Sullivan Central; Mollie Leslie, Carissa Comsa and Harris from Sullivan South; Morgan Headrick, Kaylen Shell, and Tori Roberts from Elizabethton. The MVP was Kaitlyn Bailey from Elizabethton.

• • •

The Region 1-AA tournament will begin on Friday, Feb. 22, with the following matchups: District 2-AA fourth seed Cumberland Gap will travel to District 1-AA champion Elizabethton; District 1-AA three seed Sullivan Central will travel to District 2-AA two seed Grainger County

District 1-AA fourth seed Unicoi County will travel to District 2-AA champion South Greene; and District 2-AA three seed Greeneville will travel to District 1-AA two seed Sullivan South.

All games are scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

A loss to South Greene will end the season for the Lady Devils. With a win, they will play on Monday, Feb. 25, at Happy Valley.

Blue Devil basketball team wraps up regular season

Brock Thompson goes in for a layup against David Crockett. (Contributed photo by Teresa Parkey)

From Staff Reports

After struggling for several weeks to get a victory, the Unicoi County High School boys basketball team ended the regular season last week with two wins in three games. These victories may have given the Blue Devils (7-21, 2-10) needed momentum going into this week’s District 1-AA tournament.

“I feel like we are playing a lot better,” UCHS head coach Michael Smith said. “We are playing better defensively, but we are doing a much better job offensively. We are getting shots to go and the guys are playing with more confidence.”

Johnson County is the tournament’s top seed. Elizabethton is second, Sullivan East is third, Sullivan South is fourth and Sullivan Central is fifth.

The seventh-place Blue Devils will face the sixth-place Happy Valley Warriors (7-19, 3-7) in the district play-in game on Wednesday, Feb. 13, at 7:30 p.m. at Happy Valley. The teams split their conference games this season, with the Blue Devils winning in Carter County in December and the Warriors winning in Erwin in January.

“We feel confident that we have a good chance to win,” Smith said. “We won by double digits at their place earlier in the season, then only lost by 4 points at home during a stretch when we were not playing well.”

If the Blue Devils defeat the Warriors, they will play Sullivan East on Friday, Feb. 15, at 6 p.m. at Happy Valley. A victory over East will set up a semifinal matchup with Elizabethton on Saturday, Feb. 16, at 5 p.m.

A loss to Happy Valley or Sullivan East will end the season. If the Blue Devils make it to the semifinal round, they will automatically qualify for the Region 1-AA tournament.

Sullivan South and Sullivan Central will play on Friday at 7:30 p.m. The winner of that game will face Johnson County on Saturday at 8 p.m. in the semifinals. The district championship will be played on Tuesday, Feb. 19, at 7:30 p.m.; the consolation game will be played that same day at 6 p.m.

• • •

On Feb. 5, the Blue Devils went on the road to defeat the Sullivan Central Cougars, 60-55, in their final Three Rivers Conference game of the season. 

“We did a great job defensively, especially late in the second half,” Smith said.

In a back-and-forth game, the Blue Devils made plays down the stretch to seal the victory, including clutch free throw shooting by Brett Lingerfelt, who made 5-6 from the charity stripe in the final minute. The team made almost 70 percent of their free throws in the win.

Lingerfelt scored 20 points (3 three-pointers) and had 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Gavin Casey scored 17 and had 8 rebounds. Danny Lowery had 6 points. Phoenix Holt scored 6 (1 three-pointer). Brock Thompson scored 4. Robbie O’Dell and Nicholas Hensley each scored 3. Austin O’Dell scored 1.

• • •

The Blue Devils lost to David Crockett, 59-52, in non-conference action on Friday, Feb. 8, in Erwin. The Pioneers held a 22-15 advantage at the end of the first quarter and rode that to the victory.

“We did not play well early,” Smith said. “We played better in the second half, but we couldn’t really cut into the lead.”

Thompson led the Blue Devils in scoring with 21 points (5 three-pointers) against Crockett. Lowery scored 10. Lingerfelt had 8 (2 three-pointers). Casey had 5. Caleb Adkins and Austin O’Dell each had 3. Ty Thelen had 2.

• • •

The following evening, the Blue Devils bounced back with a 48-37 victory over Cloudland in Erwin on senior night. Things didn’t get off to a great start for UCHS as the Highlanders took a 12-7 lead after the first quarter. The Blue Devils made adjustments and started chipping away at Cloudland’s advantage.

“We extended our zone and covered their shooters better as the game went along,” Smith said. 

The Blue Devils reclaimed the lead in the third quarter and led 33-30 going into the final frame. They outscored the Highlanders 15-7 in the fourth to hold on for the win.

Thompson scored 18 points (3 three-pointers) against Cloudland. Lingerfelt scored 15 (2 three-pointers). Casey scored 5. Austin O’Dell scored 4. Robbie O’Dell, Adkins and Lowery each scored 2.