Blue Devils ready for another successful season

The Unicoi County High School football team will open the 2019 season on Friday, Aug. 23, at South Greene. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. (Contributed photo)

By Keeli Parkey

The 2018 season was one of the most memorable in recent history for the Unicoi County High School football program. In addition to finishing with a 9-3 record, the Blue Devils also hosted and won the school’s first playoff game in decades before being eliminated from the postseason by eventual state champion Alcoa.

“I think the high point of last year was winning the home playoff game,” head coach Drew Rice recently told The Erwin Record. “We hadn’t hosted a playoff game since 1991 and hadn’t won one since 1985. So to have that sort of historical relevance, and it be at home in front of our fans was really special. Finally getting over the five win mark like we had been at for the previous three years was huge too; it was a special year for a lot of people.”

With the 2019 season upon them, the question now is, can the Blue Devils repeat – or even top – the success of last season? To do that, coaches and players will have to take the season one game at a time, according to Rice.

“It’s such a long season, and it’s such a physical and mental grind for both our guys and our coaches … ,” Rice said. “We have always talked about going 1-0 each and every week, but last year was definitely a product of that mindset. I hope our guys truly learned how to win. We had tasted success in the couple years prior, but it was never sustained success. So my hope is that our guys saw and learned what it takes to be successful throughout the course of an entire season. We had tremendous leadership last year from our seniors, so I hope this year’s seniors can model that same type of mentality and approach.”

With 56 players on the roster, including 31 upperclassmen, Rice has high expectations for the 2019 season.

“We have four goals every year – have a winning season, win the region, host a playoff game and advance in the playoffs,” Rice said. “Last year we accomplished three of those four. In order to do that, we have to go 1-0 each and every week. So ultimately we think we can be competitive for the top of our league, but we have to do a lot of proving between now and the end of the season. Last year’s accomplishments, mean absolutely nothing when we kick off the season.”

With that many upperclassmen on the team, the Blue Devils bring an experienced and athletic lineup to the field.

“I think our greatest strength is our depth,” Rice said. “We have 31 upperclassmen and it has really shown in these scrimmages when we put in our second group of guys and there’s really not much of a drop-off. So hopefully, throughout the course of the season that will prove to be a real weapon for us. I also think our team speed is exceptional for a school our size. In our summer testing in June, we had 24 guys under a 5 second 40-yard-dash.”

Aiding the Blue Devils in their quest for a region title and playoff success will be several familiar faces to UCHS fans, including senior running back Kody Lewis. Lewis carried the ball 194 times for 2,025 yards and 24 touchdowns – all without a single fumble – during the 2018 season. His efforts earned him all-state honors from the Tennessee Football Coaches Association.

“He is a preseason all-state selection this year and will be the feature back,” Rice said. “He has next-level speed and we are excited for him.”

Running the offense will be junior quarterback Brock Thompson, who threw for just over 100 yards a game and 15 touchdowns last season.

“He has been starting since the third game of his freshman year, so we have all the confidence in the world in his ability,” Rice said. “He has really grown and matured as an athlete and a quarterback.”

Junior Robbie O’Dell will be the backup quarterback this season.

“Robbie has really had a great summer,” Rice said. “He is a great athlete who can do a lot of different things for us.”

Senior Diego Diaz will also get a lot of touches this season.

“He has really had a great offseason and he runs extremely hard,” Rice said.

On the outside, wideouts Peyton Whitson, Tanner VanHoy, Evan Huff, Tracy Vanover and Jordan Bridges all bring athleticism to the field.

“They all can make plays for us,” Rice said.

L.J. Mitchell and Isaiah Smith will play H-back this season.

“Their position is absolutely critical to our offense,” Rice said.

The offensive line is anchored by the experienced senior trio of Roby Lemmon, Michael Harrington and Nick Farnor.

“All three of them have started since they were sophomores on the offensive line,” Rice said. “Dakoda Bell and Rodrigo Castellon will play our guard spots and Caleb Swinehart will be a very valuable backup for us.”

In addition to the experience, there are several youngsters who are ready to make a name for themselves on the gridiron this season.

“We have some tremendous young talent like Bryson Peterson, Lucas Slagle, Nehemiah Edwards, Esteban Mendoza and Caleb Pelaez,” Rice said. “All those guys are going to have very bright futures in our program.”

Players to watch on defense include Mitchell and senior Zhante Breedlove. Rice said they will be the defensive anchor at their defensive end positions.

“On the interior defensive line, Rodrigo Castellon, Nick Farnor, Michael Harrington and Ethan Fuller will all play meaningful snaps,” Rice said. “Our linebackers are senior heavy with Roby Lemmon and Lane Garland on the interior. Both have played a lot of football for us, and are very committed to our program. Isaiah Smith is an extremely talented sophomore who will play all three linebacker spots for us; he is going to be a name people hear a lot over the next three years.

“Preston Woodby and Diego Diaz will hold down the outside linebacker spot for us, and provide speed and athleticism for us on the edge. In our secondary, Kody Lewis, Jacob Schreck and Robbie O’Dell will all split time between the two safety spots. At corner Tanner VanHoy and Matthew Sellars will start. Tracy Vanover will provide valuable depth there for us as well.”

In addition to Rice, the 2019 Blue Devil coaching staff includes Malcolm Foreman, Jason Hensley, Brandon Adams, Jordan Cooper, Mark Peterson, Eric Tilson, Trevor Berry and Austin Hensley.

A successful 2019 campaign will depend on how well the Blue Devils do the little things, according to their head coach.

“We have to take care of the football on offense and we have to tackle well defensively,” Rice said. “If we do those two things night in and night out, we can have a tremendous season.”

The Blue Devils will once again play Region 1-AAA with Chuckey-Doak, Claiborne, Johnson County, North Greene and West Greene.

“We think we are going to be in the mix,” Rice said of the race to the region title. “We have to stay healthy, and we have to control what we can control. If we take care of business each and every week, we will have a chance at a championship come November.”

The Blue Devils open the 2019 season at South Greene in non-league play on Friday, Aug. 23. Their first home game will be Friday, Aug. 30, against Hampton. The first region game will be played on the road at North Greene on Sept. 6. Kickoff for each game is set for 7:30 p.m.

“We would just like to encourage everyone to come support these young men,” Rice said. “It’s an exciting time for football in Unicoi County. They have committed to something that is much bigger than themselves, and because of that, I hope the community will come out and support them. There are currently 110 young men in grades 6-12 who are playing football in Unicoi County right now between the high school and the middle school programs. We want to build long term success in Unicoi County.”

Season tickets and parking passes are still on sale in the main office of UCHS for $30 each.

Blue Devil football team hosts Sullivan North for scrimmage

Kody Lewis takes a hand off from quarterback Brock Thompson during the Blue Devils’ scrimmage with Sullivan North on Friday, Aug. 9, at Gentry Stadium. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School football team’s preparations for the upcoming season continued last week with a scrimmage against Sullivan North at Gentry Stadium in Erwin.

“I thought we did some good things, but also showed some places that we have to clean up,” Blue Devil head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record. “Overall, I think it was a good showing for us though. Sullivan North was a big physical football team and it was a good test for us.

UCHS will open the 2019 season on Friday, Aug. 23, at South Greene. As that kickoff draws ever closer, Rice said the competition against North gave the coaching staff an idea of what the team needs to focus on in the coming days.

“I think it showed us some places that need to improve over the next two weeks,” he added. “We did a lot of good things on defense, but we have to be better tacklers. We had five or six different plays bottled up in the backfield, and we let them break out of it for positive yards. Our run game has to get cleaned up, as well. We aren’t communicating up front as well as I would like for us to be. Those two things will be the focus over the next two weeks.”

As it was in the scrimmage at Northview Academy on Aug. 2, depth was a bright spot for the Blue Devils against North, according to the head coach.

“I think our depth has been really evident on both sides of the ball in both scrimmages now,” Rice said. “Our second offense scored two touchdowns in less than eight plays, so that is something that we have a lot of confidence in moving forward. Defensively, I think our young guys fly to the ball really well. They are still learning how to play in some places, but we definitely have a lot of talent.”

With the players returning to the classroom this week, Rice said the team will continue its preparations.

“This week we will really try and get in our weekly routine,” he added. “We will try to get our legs back under us a little since we have now been pushing really hard for over a month. With that in mind, we will still make conditioning a huge focus between now and the first game. We have to tackle better on defense, and be more efficient with our blocks up front.”

The Blue Devils will face another preseason test when they host Cosby for their final preseason scrimmage on Thursday, Aug. 15, at Gentry Stadium. Rice said the scrimmage is tentatively scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m.

• • •

After going on the road to face South Greene on Aug. 23, the Blue Devils will play their first home game on Aug. 30 against Hampton.

Season tickets are now on sale at the main office of the high school. Parking passes for Gentry Stadium are also on sale; however, a limited number of parking passes are available.

Griffith enjoying collegiate coaching career

Unicoi County native Megan Griffith served as the pitching coach for the University of California San Diego softball team during a 2019 season that saw the squad advance to the NCAA Division II Women’s College World Series. (Contributed photo)

By Keeli Parkey

An Erwin native who made a name for herself on the diamond is now having success in the dugout.

Megan Griffith concluded a successful softball career at Science Hill High School in 2011.

“I was the three-time Big 8 All-Conference Player of the Year, 2008 all-tournament team, 2009 all-tournament MVP, four-time All-Northeast Tennessee Team, 2008 MVP Fastpitch for Chicks 16-18U, two-time FCA Tennessee All-Star Team, member of the National Society for High School Scholars,” Griffith said of her time with the Lady Hilltoppers. “I earned a high school diploma and an International Baccalaureate Diploma.”

Next, Griffith moved on to Gulf Coast State University where she played for a year and a half after having back surgery and redshirting.

“There I led the team in most every offensive category including doubles, homeruns, slugging percentage (.591), RBIs (57), total bases (110) and extra base hits (23)” Griffith said.

Griffith then returned to her home state where she attended Middle Tennessee State University and played shortstop for the Lady Raiders.

“There I was an NFCA Division I All-American Scholar Athlete, made the dean’s list and was Conference USA Player of the Week multiple times,” Griffith said.

Griffith graduated from MTSU in May 2016 with a bachelor of science degree in exercise science. College was a memorable experience for the Erwin native.

“There were many amazing experiences, however, my two favorites were hitting a grand slam in Florida followed by a 3-run homerun the next at bat and a two run double the next. I broke the NJCAA record for most RBIs in a single game,” Griffith said. “The second was hitting a walk-off grand slam against MTSU’s rival Western Kentucky University in a hard-fought battle.”

Griffith said she also learned many important lessons playing softball at the collegiate level.

“College athletics helped shape me into the person I am today,” she added. “I learned so many lessons about commitment, integrity, what it means to be a true competitor and how to work relentlessly towards your goal. Being a collegiate athlete is much more difficult than some imagine. You have to be a pro at time management. I balanced 5 a.m. workouts, a full course load, study hall, practice, community service, studying, homework and various other obligations on a daily basis.”

After graduation, Griffith decided to make the move from the field to the sidelines.

“I was drawn to coaching to be able to give back to the sport that gave me so much,” she said. “Through softball I was able to travel all over the country, meet amazing people, learn a multitude of life lessons and have my education paid on scholarship.

“I coach collegiately because I feel this is where young women need the most guidance and best role models. For me college was such a growing experience. I want to help build strong, young women who will be successful on and off the field long after they have hung up their cleats. There is nothing more rewarding than knowing you’ve helped someone and been able to give back to the community that gave so much to you.”

Pursuing her coaching career took Griffith to California in September 2016.

“When I got to California, I had no jobs lined up and really no way of knowing what was going to happen,” Griffith said. “I was blessed that a former college teammate’s family let me stay with them until I could get my feet under me. I worked as a server at a restaurant and a volunteer assistant at Whittier College.”

Volunteering at Whittier College opened up doors for Griffith.

“Eventually the head coach at Whittier College helped me find a better paying job still in the realm of softball,” she said. “I worked as tournament coordinator, college coach liaison and travel ball coach for several months in order to build up my resume. I then applied for the assistant coach position at University of California San Diego.”

Griffith was offered – and accepted – a job at UCSD in September 2017.

“It took a great deal of hard work and determination,” she said. “I refused to give up on my dream after nearly a year of praying and battling and God opened the right door for me.”

In her first year at UCSD Griffith served as the hitting and field instructor.

“In the 2018 season the team hit 30 points better than the previous season and boasted the highest average in the last 10 years, finishing the season at .306, “she said. “My first year we made it to the regional tournament and fell rather quickly, which was a disappointment.”

For the 2019 season, Griffith took over pitching coach duties due to a sudden illness.

“This was an incredibly rewarding and amazing experience,” she said. “During my time overseeing the pitching staff we earned five conference pitcher awards, improved our regular season ERA down to 2.20, earned first team all-conference pitcher, first team All-West Region Pitcher, the first no-hitter in school history, and six shut-out victories. This was a huge improvement from the previous years and I could not be prouder of the work ethic and dedication of those athletes. They bought into my system and trusted me and we went the furthest the team had gone since 2012.”

UCSD finished the 2019 season with an overall record of 37-17.

“We play in a very competitive Division II conference,” Griffith said. “This year we were able to accomplish an unbelievable amount. We were conference regular season champions (first time since 2011), All-West Regional Champions (since 2012), Super Regional Champions (since 2012) and made a NCAA Division II Women’s College World Series appearance (first since 2012). Unfortunately, we weren’t able to win it all and come back with a ring. However, to be one of the last eight teams standing in the nation was such an honor. The pride and joy I feel when coaching those athletes are incomparable to anything else. I truly believe I have found my calling and am so passionate about my work.”

This summer, Griffith decided to accept a position as a hitting/assistant coach at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia – a Division I university in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

“I will start there in the fall of this year,” Griffith said. “I valued my time and experiences in California a great deal, but I chose to make the move to be closer to my family on the east coast.”

It is her family that Griffith credits with her success.

“I would like to thank my parents and family for always supporting me, encouraging me to chase my dreams and never give up,” she said. “They taught me to be strong, independent, honest and hard working. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without their love and support. I am truly blessed.”

True blue: Gene Ramsey remembered for support, generosity

Gene Ramsey, pictured with his wife, Sally, was an avid supporter of local sports teams prior to his death earlier this year. He is remembered for his generosity, kindness and willingness to help others. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

Unicoi County athletics lost an important member of the Blue Devil family earlier this year when long-time supporter Gene Ramsey passed away on March 4.

In addition to being a loving husband to Sally Bradford Ramsey and a devoted father to Amy Ramsey Reed, Ramsey was a mentor and father figure to many athletes that put on the Blue Devil blue and white. He also enjoyed watching his grandsons, Raben and Boone, play sports through the years.

“He was a great supporter of the Blue Devils,” Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely said. “I remember when I was younger he paid for kids on the football team to go to camp when they could not afford it. His help didn’t end there – he helped me get my first summer job when he worked at Hoover Ball in 1974.”

Former Unicoi County High School athletic director and head football coach Doug Cooper remembers Ramsey as a friend and mentor.

“He was like a second father to me,” Cooper said. “While my father was sick, (Gene) made sure I never missed a University of Tennessee game. Some of my favorite memories are going to bowl games with Gene.”

According to Cooper, he and Ramsey made it to every major bowl that Tennessee played in, including the Vols’ 1998 National Championship victory over the Florida State Seminoles at the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Arizona on Jan. 4, 1999.

According to Cooper, Ramsey never stopped giving to the UCHS athletic program.

“Not only did he attend every sporting event he could, he was there to help each program financially,” Cooper said. “During my tenure, he never turned down a chance to donate, oftentimes he would donate anonymously.”

Glenn Fisher, who currently serves on the Unicoi County Board of Education and was the head coach of the UCHS Lady Devil basketball program for decades, shared similar experiences with Ramsey.

“It didn’t matter what sport it was, he was always the first to support Unicoi County athletics in any way he could,” Fisher said. “I will always remember him getting chilled watermelons every summer for the football team.”

Ramsey’s giving spirit spilled over from field to field and court to court.

“He would always take care of our athletes in so many different ways, whether it was giving them bookmarkers, encouraging signs for the locker room, buying pizzas, donating money to help or just overall support,” Unicoi County Director of School and former UCHS basketball coach John English said. “You could always count on his support for not only our basketball teams, but Blue Devil sports in general.”

Ramsey offered moral support  in addition to monetary donations.

“He also sponsored the most valuable player award at the high school football banquet for years, but his biggest attribute was encouragement to all the players win or lose,” Evely said. “He was just a great person who always put others first, along with Sally.”

Ramsey provided support for the coaches as well as the athletes.

“We had many great conversations on the phone after big wins or even tough losses back when I coached,” English said. “Those really meant a lot to me then and even more now.”

While Mr. Ramsey’s heart may have bled Blue Devil Blue and white, his love was at home. According to Ramsey’s daughter, Amy Ramsey Reed, Ramsey was just as giving at home. Ramsey said some of her favorite memories with her father was riding down to Greenville to pick up watermelons for the football team.

“He has given those boys watermelons for as long as I have been alive,” Reed said. “I remember my dad carrying me on his shoulders at the Tennessee games. Since then I completed my undergraduate and graduate studies at Tennessee, I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else.”

Reed will miss her father, but Unicoi County will miss one of the most giving individuals to ever reside in the county.

“He was always so supportive of Blue Devil athletics. He absolutely loved pulling for the Big Blue,” English said. “You could always count on seeing him and Sally at games.”

Fisher agreed.

“He will be missed,” Fisher said. “Unicoi County athletics will not be the same.”

All-stars claim second place in Southeast Regional

Competing on the 8-10 year-old Unicoi County softball all-star team were Carly Baxter, Kianna Woodward, Aaliyah Engle, Annabelle Eanes, Kyndal Engle, Kinley Carver, Emma Hummer, Kaley Toney, Reagan Carroll, Chloe Conner and Noly Cooper. The team is coached by Terry Higgins, Daniel Engle and Aaron Toney. (Contributed photo)

From Staff Reports

Unicoi County’s 8-10 year-old softball all-stars battled to the very end, but fell just short of a regional title.

After winning the state championship earlier this month, these future Lady Devils traveled to Cunningham, Tennessee, to play in the region tournament with other teams from Georgia, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Dickson County, Tennessee.

Playing in pool A, Unicoi County opened the tournament with a 5-4 loss to Georgia on Saturday, July 20, according to coach Terry Higgins. The team then bounced back with an exciting 4-3 victory over Virginia later that day. Higgins said they won on a walk-off in the bottom of the sixth inning.

On Sunday, July 21, Unicoi County bested West Virginia, 2-1, to advance to the championship game. There, they ran into a tough South Carolina team and lost, 3-0.

“All the girls played their hearts out,” Higgins said. “We finished in second place for the Southeast Region in the Tournament of State Champions.”

The all-stars advanced to the Southeast Region after winning the District 5 championship in June, then winning the state tournament earlier this month in Erwin.

The team is made up of players Carly Baxter, Kianna Woodward, Aaliyah Engle, Annabelle Eanes, Kyndal Engle, Kinley Carver, Emma Hummer, Kaley Toney, Reagan Carroll, Chloe Conner and Noly Cooper.

The team is coached by Terry Higgins, Daniel Engle and Aaron Toney.

All-stars win state title, advance to region

The Unicoi County Little League 8-10 year-old softball all-star team won the state championship last week. The team, which is made up of players Kaley Toney, Noly Cooper, Kinley Carver, Kyndal Engle, Chloe Connor, Reagan Carroll, Emma Hummer, Annabelle Eanes, Carly Baxter, Carmindy Williams, Kianna Woodward and Aaliyah Engle, is pictured above with their state championship banner. The team is also coached by Terry Higgins, Aaron Toney and Daniel Engle.

From Staff Reports

Unicoi County has another state softball title.

This latest one came thanks to the efforts of the Unicoi County Little League’s 8-10 year-old softball all-star team.

The road to the state title began in the District 5 tournament, which the team won last month. That tournament win sent the team to the state tournament played at Erwin’s Kiwanis Park.

According to manager Terry Higgins, these future Lady Devils opened the state tournament on Saturday, July 6, with a 13-3 victory over Dickson County. Later that day, they defeated Smith County, 12-2. These victories set up a game with Goodlettsville on Sunday, July 7, which Unicoi County won 7-4. This victory sent the team to the championship round.

After the loss to Unicoi County, Goodlettsville battled out of the losers’ bracket to face the hometown team once again on Tuesday, July 9. This time, Goodlettsville came out victorious, defeating Unicoi County, 4-3.

This forced a winner-take-all game the following day. In that game, the now-familiar foes battled to a 0-0 tie after six innings. Then, Unicoi County’s offense came alive for what Higgins described as “an extra-inning thriller.”

“We scored six runs in the top half of the seventh inning and held Goodlettsville off in the bottom of the seventh,” Higgins added.

With a state title in hand, the all-stars now set their sights on a Southeast Regional championship. Higgins said the team is expected to open regional play on Saturday, July 20, in Cunningham, Tennessee. The opponent and time have yet to be announced.

In addition to Unicoi County, the tournament will include teams from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, Higgins said.

Unicoi County Football League tryouts set for July 27

From Staff Reports

The Unicoi County High School football program is inviting boys in third, fourth and fifth grades to play in the Unicoi County Football League.

“It is an exciting time for Unicoi County football,” head coach Drew Rice said. “We are entering the third year of our flag football league backed by the National Football Flag Program. Every third, fourth and fifth grade male student has the opportunity to play in an official NFS jersey with classmates from across the county.”

Rice said tryouts will be held on Saturday, July 27, beginning at 11 a.m. Practice will begin on Thursday, Aug. 1, with games starting on Thursday, Aug. 15.

“Teams will play at least five games and have a playoff leading up to the Blue Devil Bowl to be played on Sept. 26,” Rice said. “All games will be played at Gentry Stadium and the entire season will be completed by the beginning of fall break.”

Rice described the new league as “a top priority for our football program as a whole.”

“We believe that for our high school team to be successful, we must begin cultivating well-rounded football players at the elementary age,” Rice said. “This league, which is fully backed by both Unicoi County schools and the National Football League, plans to be the first step in a very successful football career for these young athletes.”

The cost of the league, which includes a reversible jersey, flags and player/parent membership in USA Football, is $40. Players should register online at https://nflflag.com/register – Step 1: Create a Parent Account; Step 2: Select Unicoi County Football League; Step 3: Register your Child.

Checks should be made payable to UCFL and mailed to Unicoi County Middle School Attention: Coach Hensley, 599 S. Mohawk Dr., Erwin, TN 37650.

For more information, contact Rice at 743-1632 or ricea@unicoischools.com or contact assistant coach Jason Hensley at 735-0236 or hensleyj@unicoischools.com.

All-Star team reaches state championship

The 6- to 8-year-old Unicoi County Little League baseball all-star team includes, pictured from left, back row, Reed Carroll, Owen Masters, Ty Toney, Miles Gouge, AJ Holt, Wyatt Shelton and Mason Wright; front row, Nevan Sifford, Blake Bennett, Justin Ramsey, Braydan Sifford and Mason Blackburn. (Contributed photo)

The 11- to 12-year-old Unicoi County Little League baseball all-star team includes, pictured from left, back row, coach David Butler, manager Roger Allen and coach Donnie Hensley; middle row, Matthew Whitson, Ryan Allen, Albert Alaniz, Ethan Butler, Rhett Allen, Christian Nasser and Josh Randolph; front row, Angel Delgado, Gabe King, Ethan Falkenstein, Dillon Gast, Dillon Sifford and Emanuel Chavez. (Contributed photo)

From Staff Reports

Of the six all-star teams representing Unicoi County Little League in tournament action this summer, one is still standing – and playing for a state title.

8-10 Year-Old Softball All-Stars

This group of youngsters won the District 5 championship last month, which sent them to the state tournament competition being played in Erwin.

The softball all-stars opened the state tournament on Saturday, July 6, with a 13-3 victory over Dickson County. Later that day, they defeated Smith County 12-2, according to coach Terry Higgins.

These victories set up a game with Goodlettsville on Sunday, July 7, which Unicoi County won 7-4. The win sent the team to the championship game which was played on Tuesday, July 9, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue.

According to Higgins, if the team wins on Tuesday, they will play in the regional tournament in Cunningham, Tennessee, beginning July 19. The time and opponent for that game is yet to be decided.

6-8 Year-Old Baseball All-Stars

The youngest baseball all-star team was eliminated from tournament play by losses on June 11 and June 12 in Bluff City.

According to coach Nick Gouge, lost 9-6 to Johnson City Major on the first day, then lost to Blountville 10-4 the second day.

11-12 Year-Old Baseball All-Stars

The 11-12 year-old baseball all-star team was also eliminated with consecutive losses while playing in Bluff City.

Coach Roger Allen said the team lost to Johnson City Major 14-4 on July 1, then lost to Johnson City American 15-0 the following day.

The 6-8 year-old softball all-stars, the 8-10 year-old baseball all-stars and the 10-12 year-old softball all-stars were all previously eliminated from tournament play.

Unicoi County Little League all-star tournament results

The 6-8 year-old Unicoi County Little League softball team includes, pictured from left, back row, manager Ruth Jackson, assistant coach Mallory Jackson, assistant coach Dino Tipton and assistant coach Seth Jones; middle row, Tommi Hensley, Olivia Nasser, Abigail Peterson, Ava Hoyle, Lisa Wharton and Nevaeh Hoffman; front row, Olivia Jones, Brooklyn Doughty, Ella Jones, Grace Odom, Kylee Honeycutt, Madelyn Edwards and Leandra Parsons. (Contributed photo)

The 8-10 year-old Unicoi County Little League baseball team includes, pictured from left, back row, coach Eric Garland, coach Eric Wainwright and coach Travis Griffith; middle row, Asher Wainwright, Colt Hensley, Bryson Garland, Isaiah Ebernickle and Ashton Kinley; front row, Peyton Falkenstein, Liam Jones, Noah English, Guycen Jones, Silas Morris and Dalton Fuller. (Contributed photo)

The 8-10 year-old all-star softball team includes Kaley Toney, Noly Cooper, Kinley Carver, Kyndal Engle, Chloe Connor, Reagan Carroll, Emma Hummer, Annabelle Eanes, Carly Baxter, Carmindy Williams, Kianna Woodward and Aaliyah Engle. (Contributed photo)

The 10-12 year-old Unicoi County Little League softball team includes, pictured from left, back row, coach Jessica Banner, Kynzie Jones, manager Aaron Banner, Maddison Williams, Peyton Higgins, Kylee Hensley, Abby Hampton, coach Josh Jones and Leia Richardson; front row, Haley Rush, Miley Woodward, Mikayla Beard and Baylee Adams. (Contributed photo)

From Staff Reports

Three Unicoi County Little League were recently eliminated from the region’s tournament play.

6-8 Year-Old Softball All-Stars

The 6-8 year-old Unicoi County Little League softball all-star team opened tournament play on June 11 with a 10-2 loss to Jonesborough, according to manager Ruth Jackson.

The following day, the team found itself losing to Bristol by four runs going into the sixth inning. Jackson said her team reclaimed the lead thanks to an inside-the-park home run by Nevaeh Hoffman and multiple hits from her teammates. Unicoi County held an 8-7 lead going into the bottom of the sixth, unfortunately, Bristol added two more runs to win the game 9-8.

The loss eliminated the team from tournament play.

“It was a heartbreaker,” Jackson said. “We were definitely the underdog. We had a young team and no travel ball players.”

8-10 Year-Old Baseball All-Stars

The 8-10 year-old Unicoi County Little League baseball all-stars were eliminated from tournament play by two losses last week.

Playing at Bluff City, the team lost to Jonesborough 17-7 on June 24 and 12-4 to Johnson City Major the following day.

10-12 Year-Old Softball All-Stars

The 10-12 year-old Unicoi County Little League softball all-star team opened tournament play on June 15 at Daniel Boone Little League with a 20-6 victory over Johnson County, according to manager Aaron Banner.

The team suffered its first loss later that day against Daniel Boone by the score of 15-0.

Next, the team faced Johnson County again – and won again – this time on June 16 by the score of 19-5. The victory set up another game with Daniel Boone. Unfortunately, the second matchup went the same as the first with Daniel Boone defeating Unicoi County 27-0. The loss eliminated the team from the tournament.

• • •

The 8-10 year-old softball all-star team recently won the District 5 championship.

Coach Terry Higgins previously told The Erwin Record that the team lost 13-12 in the bottom of the sixth inning to Daniel Boone.

“We had to play them again on Sunday, June 16,” Higgins said. “We beat them 11-2, which led to the if-necessary game and we won it, 11-1.”

The victories clinched the district title for the team and sent them to the state tournament, which is scheduled to begin on July 6.

The team, which is made up of players Kaley Toney, Noly Cooper, Kinley Carver, Kyndal Engle, Chloe Connor, Reagan Carroll, Emma Hummer, Annabelle Eanes, Carly Baxter, Carmindy Williams, Kianna Woodward and Aaliyah Engle. In addition to Higgins, the team is also coached by Aaron Toney and Daniel Engle.

Information about the remaining Unicoi County Little League all-star teams will appear in upcoming issues of The Erwin Record.

Achin’ for the Bacon 5K River Run set for June 29

From Staff Reports

The Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce is again teaming up with CASA of Northeast Tennessee to host the 8th Annual Achin’ for the Bacon 5K River Run on Saturday, June 29.

Runners and walkers of all ages are invited to participate in the race. The race will begin at 9 a.m. and a portion of the proceeds will benefit CASA.

The race features a flat and fast course along a section of the Nolichucky River. The start/finish line of the race will be in the parking lot of the Mountain Inn and Suites (former Holiday Inn Express) located at 2002 Temple Hill Road, Erwin.

From Temple Hill Road, racers will continue to Jackson Love Highway and then to Industrial Park Drive.

Runners will race down Industrial Park Drive to the Linear Trail access point near the Trail Gazebo and race back on the Linear Trail alongside the Nolichucky River.

Electronic tag timing and professional race management from We Run Events will be provided again this year.

Following the race, awards in various categories will be given. Registration will begin at 7 a.m.

All participants will receive a race T-shirt, racer goodie bag and a complimentary bacon and pancake breakfast following the race.

The cost to preregister for the Achin’ for the Bacon 5K River Run is $25. The cost on race day is $30. Preregistration is available through June 27.

For more information call the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce at 743-3000.

Registration is available at https://www.athlinks.com/event/achin-for-the-bacon-5k-river-run-24816.

Hawkins competes at state track meet

Halie Hawkins clears a jump during the recent TSSAA state meet held at Middle Tennessee State University. (Contributed photo)

By Keeli Parkey

Halie Hawkins concluded her athletic career at Unicoi County High School with a top-10 finish in the pole vault at the TSSAA Spring Fling Track Championships held at Middle Tennessee State University on Thursday, May 23.

“Halie finished the day in ninth out of 16 vaulters and a jump of 9 feet,” UCHS head coach Thad Higgins told The Erwin Record. “It’s always a proud moment to have any athlete represent UCHS at the state meet, but to have an athlete be one of the top 10 vaulters in the state is really incredible. I was also proud of how Halie overcame unexpected obstacles and remained mentally tough. We’re so proud of Halie for how she competed throughout this entire season and especially for how well she represented UCHS at the state championship.”

Going back to the state meet for the second time was a special experience for Hawkins, who will continue her track and field career at Milligan College next year.

“Getting to represent your school and town at the state meet is an amazing experience,” Hawkins said. “The atmosphere is unlike any other meet I have ever been to. When an athlete hears the phrase, ‘You are going to Murfreesboro,’ you can’t help but get excited. It’s the best of the best. Being among the top track and field athletes in the whole state is really cool.”

This year, Hawkins competed in a different division than she did two years ago due to reclassification by the TSSAA.

“We moved up to the large schools division,” Hawkins said. “This made getting to state much more difficult these past two years. Last year it was heartbreaking when I just missed the cut at sectionals by one placing. This year I knew I had to work really hard to make crucial vaults in order to even make it to state.”

Hawkins qualified for the state meet with a jump of 10 feet at the sectionals held at Hardin Valley on May 11.

“Our section has become very competitive, specifically in pole vault,” Hawkins said. “There are about four of us in this section that are from different schools. We have become really good friends and we have pushed one another, as a result all our heights have increased. We compete against one another but are the ones cheering one another on. We borrow poles, hang out before and after our vaults – even the coaches are really helpful to all of us. It’s very unique. We are all going on to vault in college so it will be fun to continue that.”

Hawkins said last week’s state competition started out well.

“In warmups I felt fantastic,” she added. “In fact I had my best vault I have ever had. When the bar went up however I had a crucial first miss at my opening height of 9 feet. When it’s hot the poles tend to flex a lot more and I was feeling really good and carried some extra energy into it so I hit it on the way up. I regrouped and made it on my next attempt, but it still hurt my overall placing.”

At the next height – 9’6” – Hawkins ran into some bad luck.

“I had three unlucky misses,” she said. “This sport is notorious for having lots of variables. Some days it comes together for you and others the variables just get kind of tricky. You can change one little thing and it has an impact on five others. The strides, my energy, pushing the standards back or forward, which pole I use, how high my grip is on the pole, what height I enter competition at, all that has to come together on top of what I do to take off and turn in the air. It’s so much to think about. That’s what I love about it though.”

Despite the bad luck, Hawkins said she is ready to continue competing.

“Even the top vaulter in the state can have a bad day and no height,” she added. “For me the pieces just didn’t quite come together on Thursday. I still ended up ninth though. Top 10 in the state isn’t bad. I am super excited to see what heights the next season holds.”

UCHS football team concludes spring practice

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School football team is already preparing for the 2019 season.

“We finished up two weeks of spring practice with a scrimmage at Sullivan Central last Friday,” Blue Devil head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record. “I think we had a great two weeks of practice and we got to evaluate a lot of different guys at a lot of different positions. I thought the scrimmage served its purpose – we found some guys we can for sure count on and identified some areas where we definitely have to get better.”

Rice and the Blue Devils are looking to continue their successful run in the 2018 season when they finished with a 9-3 overall record, took second in Region 1-AAA with a 4-1 league record and won a playoff game. Working toward that goal began earlier this year.

“We have been in the weight room, either lifting or speed training five days a week since Jan. 7,” Rice said. “These guys love to work and I think them having the success they did last year only fueled that desire even more. Our numbers in the weight room have been really good; we have some guys who are really moving some weight around.”

The Blue Devils completed spring practice with 45 players on the roster. This number only includes players who will be sophomores, juniors or seniors at the start of the 2019 school year.

“We expect a big freshman class coming in this week to start summer workouts, so we hope to be at or above 60 kids by the fall,” Rice said. “We are really excited about the incoming freshmen. They had a lot of success last year in middle school and it’s a really talented group that we can’t wait to get with us.”

Friday’s scrimmage saw the Blue Devils’ strength training pay off, according to the head coach.

“I think our offensive and defensive lines were in control most of the scrimmage, which I think is a testament to the offseason our guys had in the weight room,” Rice said.

The head coach also saw room for improvement.

“We had some mistakes at some key positions that we are going to have to get corrected if we want to be the type of team we think we can be,” Rice said. “I think our offense, minus a handful of plays, executed really well for spring ball. (Quarterback) Brock (Thompson) really took control of the offense and made some big time throws. I think our passing game is well beyond where we have been in the past during spring practice. We have a really talented receiving core with a lot of depth there.”

The Blue Devils will continue preparing for the 2019 season in the coming months.

“We will start summer workouts this week as soon as school lets out,” Rice said. “We will go five days a week until the dead period which starts at the end of June. We will be lifting, speed training, and doing some 7-on-7 passing work during that time. We will be working every day to build off of the success we had last season.”

The Blue Devils will open the 2019 season on Aug. 23 at South Greene. The first home game will be Aug. 30 against Hampton.

Lady Devil softball team wins district tournament, ousted in region

The Unicoi County High School softball team poses for a picture with their District 1-AA tournament plaque. Pictured from left, back row, Halie Hawkins, Kerstin Buchanan, Bella Bogart, Gabby Davis, Kaylia Street, Leah Edney, Caroline Podvin, Samantha Chavez, Jimena Rodriguez, Betsabe Chavez and Hannah Shelton; front row, Abbie Grindstaff, Kaylee Lamb, Cassie Selvage, Chloe Powers, Allee Griffith, Carly Kinsler, Ashtan Vance and Kiley Bennett. (Contributed photo)

By Keeli Parkey

Days after winning another district crown, the Unicoi County High School softball team’s 2019 season came to a disappointing end.

Playing Grainger on Monday, May 13, in the Region 1-AA semifinals, the Lady Devils (35-10) were held to only five hits and left nine runners on base in a 9-4 loss at Lady Devil Diamond in Erwin.

“We didn’t play well and we didn’t hit the ball like we can,” UCHS head coach Grady Lingerfelt said. “They have a really good pitcher and she handcuffed us. We also had a couple of miscues here and there and it ballooned on us.”

Grainger got on the scoreboard first Monday night – scoring one run in the first inning and three in the fourth. The Lady Grizzlies took complete control of the game with a 5-run fifth inning and held a 9-0 lead.

“They got some hits back-to-back,” Lingerfelt said. “They hit a lot of little bloopers that were just out of our reach. We really had an unlucky night. They are a good ball team. They are solid and are well coached. Rusty Bishop is a very good coach.”

The Lady Devils did their best to get back into the game. In the bottom of the sixth, senior Carly Kinsler hit a 2-run double for a 9-2 score, but that was all UCHS could get on the scoreboard that inning.

After holding Grainger scoreless in the top of the seventh, the Lady Devils scored another run thanks to a solo home run by senior pitcher Allee Griffith. They scored their fourth and final run of the game – and the season – when senior Chloe Powers scored on a ground out by Hannah Shelton before the final out of the game.

“The girls kept fighting right until the end, even though we were down 9-0,” Lingerfelt said. “That says a lot about them and our senior leadership.”

Powers had 2 hits in the loss. Halie Hawkins, Griffith (1 RBI) and Kinsler (2 RBIs) each had 1 hit.

• • •

The Lady Devils made it to the district championship round after battling their way out of the losers’ bracket. UCHS fell to East, the tournament’s host team and second seed, on May 6 and had to face Elizabethton on May 7 to keep the season alive.

The Lady Devils made easy work of the Lady Cyclones, winning the game 8-0. Griffith struck out 6 batters.

Kiley Bennett was 3-3 at the plate in the win. Hawkins (2 RBIs) and Powers (1 RBI) each had 2 hits. Cassie Selvage, Samantha Chavez (2 RBIs), Griffith (1 RBI) and Bella Bogart each had 1 hit. Carly Kinsler and Ashtan Vance each had 1 RBI.

“We beat a good Elizabethton team on Tuesday,” Lingerfelt said. “We went into the game with a very positive attitude after a tough loss the night before.”

The win over Elizabethton set up another matchup between UCHS and Sullivan East. To win the district, the Lady Devils had to defeat the Lady Patriots twice on Wednesday, May 8, and that is what they did.

Unfortunately, Lingerfelt was kept away from the field by illness.

“I wasn’t there, but coach Ray Webb and coach Pat Goddard stepped in a did a great job for us,” Lingerfelt said.

In the first game, UCHS survived a seventh-inning rally by East to win 7-5 and force a decisive second game. Griffith had 6 strikeouts in the win. Hawkins, Bogart (1 RBI) and Vance each had 2 hits. Selvage (1 RBI), Powers (1 RBI) and Bennett (3 RBIs) each had 1 hit. Griffith also had an RBI.

In the second game, the Lady Devils left little doubt as to which team would be the district champs.

“We came out in the first inning and got 10 runs,” Lingerfelt said.

UCHS went on to win the game – an another district crown – by a 12-6 score.

Hawkins hit 2 home runs and had 2 RBIs in the game. Chavez (2 RBIs), Griffith (1 RBI), Powers (2 RBIs) and Bogart (1 RBI) each had 2 hits in the win. Bennett (1 RBI) and Vance (2 RBIs) each had 1 hit. Griffith threw 5 strikeouts. 

After the district championship game, it was announced that Lingerfelt was named the Three Rivers Conference Coach of the Year. Hawkins was the league’s Player of the Year and Griffith was the Pitcher of the Year. Named to the All-Conference team were Kiley Bennett, Samantha Chavez, Chloe Powers, Cassie Selvage and Ashtan Vance. Bella Bogart received honorable mention honors.

Also, Hawkins was selected as the District 1-AA tournament MVP. Griffith, Bogart, Bennett and Chavez were named to the all-tournament team.

Lingerfelt said the senior players were key to the Lady Devils’ success this season.

“All of our seniors are quality kids,” he added. “They have worked hard and done a lot for our program.”

While the season didn’t end as he had hoped, Lingerfelt said it was still a success.

“We lost six starters last year and to come back and to win 35 games this year is very good,” he said. “I’m proud of what the girls did this season. I think it was a very successful season. We won 35 games; we just didn’t win the right ones. It was a good year and I was really pleased with our effort.”

Walk-off ends Blue Devil baseball season in district tournament

By Keeli Parkey

Playing in the losers’ bracket of the District 1-AA tournament in a do-or-die game, the Unicoi County High School baseball team was eliminated from the postseason by Sullivan East on a walk-off base hit.

“Even though we came out on the losing end of this one, it was one of the most intense games I have ever been a part of,” Blue Devil coach Chad Gillis told The Erwin Record. “Pitcher Peyton Whitson dominated through five innings and we had some guys come through at the plate in big situations. I personally feel as if we execute one or two offensive plays we come out on top in this one.”

The Blue Devils faced the Patriots (16-14) on May 7 at TVA Credit Union Ballpark in Elizabethton and took a 2-0 lead in the second inning. To start that inning, Garrett Manuel reached base on a double and L.J. Mitchell reached on a walk.

“Drew Keasling then knocked both runs in with a single,” Gillis said.

East scored one run in the fourth inning for a 2-1 UCHS lead. The Patriots threatened to score again in the fifth with runners on first and second and only one out.

“Their leadoff guy hits a low line drive to center field where Brett Strother makes a fantastic sliding catch and throws the runner out at second base,” Gillis said. “This was possibly the best play I have seen this season. Brett laid it all on the line to make this play and he came up big for us.”

In the top of the seventh, UCHS took a 3-1 lead on a squeeze bunt by Caleb Crain that scored Kody Lewis from third base.

“At this point, Whitson had 26 pitches left to complete the game,” Gillis said. “A couple of walks and a bunt loads the bases with no outs. Whitson strikes out the number eight hitter, then goes full count on number nine batter before he hits 120 pitches.”

Gillis then brought in Kaleb Metcalf to pitch for the Blue Devils.

“He comes in with a full count and he throws a strike to get a fly ball to shallow left field,” Gillis said.

Metcalf then had two strikes on Perry Casaday, East’s leadoff batter, with two outs. With the season on the line for both teams, Casaday hit a line drive in the gap that reached the wall and scored three runs, giving the Patriots the 4-3 victory and ending the Blue Devils’ season.

“I was very proud of the way we battled this game,” Gillis said. “I thought everyone left it on the field and we just ended up on the losing end in this one.” 

Whitson (4-4) took the loss for UCHS. He gave up 4 runs on 4 hits and had 10 strikeouts.

Keasling was 3-3 at the plate for the Blue Devils. Ramon Avila, Crain, Manuel and Metcalf each had 1 hit.

East lost to Sullivan South (20-11) in their next game and were eliminated from the postseason. Elizabethton (25-7) went on to defeat South to win the District 1-AA tournament.

Strother was named to the District All-Tournament team. Keasling and Crain received Three Rivers All-Conference honors.

• • •

The Blue Devils ended the 2019 season with a 12-19 record.

“It was a tough season both on and off the field,” Gillis said. “Baseball-wise, I feel like we battled the entire season and we never gave up in any situation. I think we have some younger guys who got a lot of playing time and learned a lot of lessons throughout the season.

“Our seniors kept everyone working and were excited to play, especially once we entered the tournament. They just kept grinding and working until the very end and that’s all you can ask for. We were also faced with some situations that helped us grow as a team. I saw a group of guys learn how to deal with adversity and support each other in tough times. I think some life lessons were learned here.”

Gillis said one of the highlights of the season was a win over a tough 3A team.

“Beating a very good Daniel Boone team was probably our biggest win,” he said. “We played well against some other 3A teams and our pitchers got some quality innings against some really good teams. L.J. Mitchell’s home run against Cherokee was a positive swing for us and it couldn’t have happened to a better kid. Whitson’s performances on the mound were great all year.”

The 2019 season could prove to be a very important learning experience for players who will return next season.

“We had multiple underclassmen get quality innings this season,” Gillis said. “I think Jordan Bridges and Kaleb Metcalf will be fully prepared for their junior season after getting so much playing time this year. I hope they learned how to grind it out even when things aren’t going your way. Gaining a better understanding of the level of play it takes to win in our conference will also be a key to our success next season. Hopefully, these guys take the lessons learned in 2019 and pass them on to the upcoming freshmen.”

Blue Devil baseball team defeats Johnson County, Happy Valley in district

Jordan Bridges was the winning pitcher for UCHS against Johnson County in the District 1-AA tournament. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The 2019 District 1-AA tournament started off on a high note for the Unicoi County High School baseball team.

The Blue Devils (12-18) went into the tournament as the fifth seed and faced fourth seed Johnson County (12-10) on Saturday, May 4, at Milligan College. Head coach Chad Gillis saw his team jump on the Longhorns early in the game and never let up.

“I thought we played well today,” Gillis said.

The Blue Devils held a 5-0 lead before Johnson County put two runs on the scoreboard. UCHS then added two more runs and held on for a 7-2 victory.

Key to the win was the pitching performance of sophomore Jordan Bridges, according to Gillis. Bridges had 6 strikeouts and gave up 2 runs on 8 hits.

“Jordan earned his second win, this one being his biggest, against a good hitting and motivated Johnson County team,” Gillis said. “He really kept them off balance the entire game and our defense backed him up flawlessly.”

The approach by the Blue Devils at the plate was another key to the game.

“We faced a pitcher who has given everybody in the conference trouble, but we made some adjustments at the plate and got the big part of the bat to the ball a couple of times,” Gillis said.

Brett Strother was 3-4 in the win. L.J. Mitchel was 2-4. Ramon Avila, Peyton Whitson, Garrett Manuel and Bridges each had 1 hit.

Awaiting the Blue Devils in the tournament’s winner’s bracket semifinal was Elizabethton, the number one seed, on Sunday, May 5, at TVA Credit Union Ballpark in Elizabethton.

Behind the pitching performance of Evan Carter, the Cyclones (22-7) defeated the Blue Devils 6-0.

“He has been dominant all year,” Gillis said of Carter. “I did like our aggressiveness tonight against him. We put the ball in play a lot more than the first time we faced him. Multiple guys in the lineup made them make plays to get us out.”

On the mound for UCHS against ‘Betsy was freshman Bryson Peterson. In his first varsity start, he gave up 6 runs on 8 hits and had 1 strikeout.

“I was really impressed with the outing from Bryson tonight,” Gillis said. “He had made some varsity relief appearances early in the season, but I thought he did well on the big stage. He held one of the hottest teams in the area to 6 runs and threw the entire game. I really liked how he approached the game and how he fought through some tough situations and made big pitches.”

The loss on Sunday sent UCHS to a do-or-die game in the losers’ bracket on Monday, May 6, against Happy Valley (9-18). The Blue Devils did what they had to do to keep their season alive.

“I thought we played well tonight,” Gillis said. “We were excited to be at the field competing.”

Avila took to the mound for UCHS on Monday.

“Ramon set the tone on the mound after giving up 1 run in the first inning,” Gillis said. “He later gets out of a jam in the second and third innings then he seems to cruise. We made some plays defensively to help. Caleb Crain made a great diving catch in the outfield to rob a base hit.”

Offensively, the Blue Devils were able to get runners on base and across the plate. Both Whitson and Strother had triples with runners on base. Manuel hit a line drive off the left field wall for an RBI.   

UCHS won the game 8-1.

Avila earned the win, his third of the season. He gave up 1 run on 6 hits and had 5 strikeouts.

Whitson, Strother, Manuel, Bridges and Avila each had 1 hit.

The Blue Devils were scheduled to face Sullivan East (15-13) on Tuesday, May 7, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. It is a do-or-die game for both teams. East lost to Sullivan South (19-9) 6-5 on Monday.

If they defeat East, the Blue Devils will play on Wednesday, May 8, at 5 p.m. against the loser of Tuesday’s game between Elizabethton and Sullivan South. The games are being played at TVA Credit Union Ballpark.

Lady Devil softball team defeats Elizabethton, falls to East in district

By Keeli Parkey

Thanks to an undefeated league record, the Unicoi County High School softball team went into the District 1-AA tournament as the number one seed and opened postseason play on Friday, May 3, against Elizabethton (9-16) at Sullivan East.

The Lady Devils (32-9) got going early in this game, scoring 2 runs in the first and 3 in the second to take a commanding 5-0 lead.

“We played very well,” UCHS head coach Grady Lingerfelt told The Erwin Record. “It was a good ballgame.”

Pitcher Allee Griffith helped her own cause in the bottom of the first with a 2-run home run that also scored Chloe Powers. Carly Kinsler and Halie Hawkins each hit home runs in the second inning. Hawkins’ was a 2-run shot that also scored Kiley Bennett. UCHS added another run in the third and another in the fourth before sealing the mercy-rule victory with 3 runs in the fifth inning.

Griffith gave up only 2 hits and had 5 strikeouts in the shutout victory. She also had 2 hits and 2 RBIs.

“All pitched very well,” Lingerfelt said. “We also hit the ball very well. We played a very good game.”

Kinsler also had 2 hits and 1 RBI. Hawkins (2 RBIs), Cassie Selvage (1 RBI), Samantha Chavez, Ashtan Vance (1 RBI), Bella Bogart and Bennett (1 RBI) each had 1 hit.

The victory over Elizabethton sent the Lady Devils to the next round where they faced Sullivan East (26-13), the tournament’s number two seed and preseason pick to win the league, on Monday, May 6. In the two previous meetings between the teams, the Lady Devils dominated, winning both by 11 runs.

That would not be the case on Monday as the Lady Patriots hit four home runs – two by Katelyn Loudy and one each by Chelsea Sams and Kylee Wolfe – en route to a 13-1 victory.

“It was one of those nights you want to forget about,” Lingerfelt said. “To East’s credit, they are a very good softball team. They hit the ball very well.”

East took control of the game in the top of the second inning when Loudy hit a grand slam to left field. The Lady Patriots added two more runs in that inning to take a 6-0 lead.

The Lady Devils got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fourth when Chavez stole home.

UCHS threatened to score again in the bottom of the fifth, having bases loaded, but could not get a timely hit. UCHS left 10 runners on base in the game.

East added two runs in the sixth and five in the seventh for the final score of 13-1.

The Lady Devils had only 6 hits in the game. Hawkins had 2. Selvage, Chavez, Bogart and Bennett each had 1.

Lingerfelt said he believes his team can bounce back from the loss to East.

“That’s just one game,” he said.

Monday’s loss sent UCHS to the losers’ bracket where they faced either Sullivan South or Elizabethton on Tuesday after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. A loss ended the Lady Devils’ season. A victory qualified the Lady Devils for the region tournament and set up another matchup with East on Wednesday, May 8, at 5:30 p.m.

UCHS can still win the district championship, but they will have to defeat East twice to do so. Should the Lady Devils defeat East in the 5:30 p.m. game on Wednesday, the second game will be played at 7 p.m.

Lady Devil softball team wins regular season conference title

Samantha Chavez puts the bat on the ball against Sullivan East on April 23. The sophomore’s 5 RBIs in the game helped lift the Lady Devils to the conference-clinching victory. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

Another season. Another conference crown.

The Unicoi County High School softball team clinched the Three Rivers Conference title last week with a 12-1 victory over Sullivan East on Tuesday, April 23, in Erwin.

Going into the game, the Lady Devils (30-8, 11-0) held a one-game lead over the Lady Patriots – having defeated them earlier this season in Bluff City.

“It is going to be a tough game,” UCHS head coach Grady Lingerfelt told The Erwin Record before Tuesday’s showdown.

The game was scoreless until the bottom of the third inning when Kiley Bennett scored on an RBI-single by Halie Hawkins to put the Lady Devils up 1-0. UCHS added another run in the bottom of the fourth when Samantha Chavez scored on an RBI-double by Ashtan Vance.

UCHS took complete control of the game in the bottom of the fifth – scoring 6 runs, including a 2-run home run by Chavez, for an 8-0 lead. Cassie Selvage, Allee Griffith and Hawkins all had RBIs in the crucial inning.

The Lady Patriots managed to score one run in the top of the sixth inning before Chavez’s 3-run home run put the game away for UCHS.

“We played well; it was a very good win,” Lingerfelt said. “Allee pitched well for us and Samantha has been hitting the ball very well.”

East was the preseason pick to win the league, but the Lady Devils had other ideas.

“We played some of our best games against East,” Lingerfelt said. “They have a very talented group of players.”

Griffith had 8 strikeouts in the win. UCHS had 12 hits at the plate. Chavez led the way with 3, including 2 home runs and 5 RBIs. Hawkins had 2 hits and 2 RBIs. Vance had 2 hits and 1 RBI. Selvage (1 RBI), Chloe Powers, Griffith (2 RBIs), Carly Kinsler and Bennett each had 1 hit.

The Lady Devils completed their clean sweep of conference opponents with a 6-2 victory at Elizabethton on Monday, April 29.

UCHS held a 3-1 lead for much of the game before scoring 3 important runs in the top of the seventh and final inning. Kinsler’s double first scored Leah Edney; then Chavez scored on a single by Vance for a 5-1 lead. Vance then scored on a double by Hawkins for a 6-1 lead.

Elizabethton tried to rally during the final at-bat, scoring one run, but the Lady Devils held them at bay.

Griffith earned the win in the circle at ‘Betsy on Monday. She had 3 hits, including a home run, and 1 RBI. Hawkins had 2 hits, including a home run, and 2 RBIs. Chavez, Kinsler (1 RBI), Bella Bogart and Bennett (1 RBI) each had 2 hits. Vance had 1 hit and 1 RBI.

The Three Rivers Conference standings are as follows: UCHS in first place at 11-0; Sullivan East in second place at 10-2; Sullivan South in third place at 8-4; Elizabethton in fifth place at 3-5; Johnson County in sixth place at 2-8; and Sullivan Central in seventh place at 1-8.

The Lady Devils will open the District 1-AA tournament on Friday, May 3, at 6:30 p.m. at Sullivan East. Their opponent will be determined later this week. The tournament will continue next week.

• • •

The Lady Devils played in annual Tiny Day Classic in Greeneville from Thursday, April 25, through Sunday, April 28.

They went 3-1 in pool play, defeating Cloudland, 10-1; South Greene, 9-2; and North Greene, 9-0. Their only loss in pool play came at the hands of David Crockett on Friday. In that game, UCHS trailed 4-1 going into the final inning. The Lady Devils scored two runs, thanks to a 2-RBI double by Powers, but they could not get another run across the plate. Crockett won the game 4-3.

Despite the one loss in pool play, the Lady Devils qualified for the tournament’s gold bracket with Crockett, Morristown East, Greeneville and Grainger, Lingerfelt said. They faced Greeneville in the first round of tournament play on Sunday and lost in a nailbiter.

Greeneville to a 1-0 in the bottom of the second inning, but the Lady Devils responded in the top half of the third when Vance scored on an error by the shortstop. Each team was held scoreless until the bottom of the final inning when Greeneville scored on a sacrifice-fly to win the game 2-1. The loss eliminated the Lady Devils from the tournament.

Bennett had 2 hits in the game. Hawkins, Powers and Chavez each had 1 hit.

“I thought we played pretty well,” Lingerfelt said of the Tiny Day. “Close games help you get better and playing good teams will make you better.”

Blue Devils wrap up regular season

L.J. Mitchell fields a ground ball at third base. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

Another regular season is almost in the books for the Unicoi County High School baseball team.

The Blue Devils (10-16, 5-7) played their last Three Rivers Conference series of the season against the Johnson County Longhorns on Tuesday, April 23, and Wednesday, April 24.

Playing in Erwin on Tuesday, the Longhorns broke open a scoreless game with a couple of timely hits in the top of the fourth inning. Compiling the problems for the Blue Devils were a couple of walks and errors.

The Blue Devils managed to put one run across the plate in the bottom of the fourth inning, but that would be their only score of the game and Johnson County won 5-1.

Peyton Whitson (4-3) took the loss on the mound, giving up 5 runs on 6 hits and striking out 9.

“I thought Peyton did well outside of the fourth inning,” Blue Devil head coach Chad Gillis said.

Brett Strother was 2-4. Jordan Bridges, Whitson, Drew Keasling and L.J. Mitchell each had 1 hit.

The next day, the Longhorns bested the Blue Devils again, this time by the score of 11-5.

“We started out the game by capitalizing on their mistakes, scoring 3 in the second inning,” Gillis said. “They put together some hits in the bottom of the second to go up 4-3. We made a mental mistake to extend an inning where they ended up scoring 4 more runs.”

Metcalf took the loss on the mound. Ramon Avila, Whitson, Metcalf and Garrett Manuel had 1 hit each.

The Blue Devils finished the conference schedule in fifth place with a record of 5-7. The conference standings ended as follows: Elizabethton in first place at 12-0; Sullivan South in second at 9-3; Sullivan East in third at 8-4; Johnson County in fourth at 5-6; UCHS fifth at 5-7; Happy Valley in sixth at 1-10; and Sullivan Central in seventh at 1-11.

The District 1-AA tournament begins this week. The Blue Devils will face Johnson County on Friday, May 3, at Elizabethton Twins Field beginning at 7:30 p.m.

• • •

One of the final games of the regular season for the Blue Devils was a 3-0 non-conference loss at Dobyns-Bennett on Monday, April 29.

Metcalf took the loss on the mound, but pitched well, according to his head coach.

“Kaleb did well on the mound to hold DB to 3 runs,” Gillis said. “He gives a chance when he is on the mound.”

Unfortunately, the Blue Devils couldn’t get anything going offensively.

“We faced some Division 1 arms that we really haven’t seen this year and they put us down quick,” Gillis said. “We got some guys on base, but just couldn’t get them across the plate.”

The Blue Devils were scheduled to wrap up the regular season on Tuesday, April 30, at Science Hill.

Coach: Track athletes having successful season

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

The Unicoi County High School track and field program has had another successful season, according to first-year head coach Thad Higgins.

The Blue Devils and Lady Devils have competed at the following meets: at Science Hill on March 18; at Volunteer on March 26; at North Buncombe on March 27; at Science Hill on April 2; at Science Hill for the Tri-Cities Classic on April 6; at the DB Texas Roadhouse Relays on April 13; and the sectional pentathlon on April 22 (only Lady Devils Halie Hawkins and Kayla Hicks competed at this meet).

“It’s incredible that we have had the amount of success that we’ve had this season,” Higgins recently told The Erwin Record. “We compete against schools that are much larger than ours, with track teams that have many more people than we do, and yet our athletes continue to place high in our meets.”

Those results include:

• John Campbell – first and second place in the 800-meter;

• Wyatt Miller – second place in the 800-meter;

• Halie Hawkins – first place in the pole vault and shot put; second place in the pole vault, shot put and discus; and third place in the pole vault;

• Natalia Mendoza – second and third place in discus;

• Kayla Hicks – first place in the 400-meter; and third place in discus;

• Cheyenne Wilson – first place in 800-meter and second place in 1600-meter;

• Rachel Altemose – second place in long jump.

“We have a much smaller guys team this year, but that hasn’t stopped them from competing at a high level,” Higgins said. “Wyatt Miller ran distance last year and cross country this past fall, but he’s stepped up and begun to pole vault. I’m very excited to see what he can do in that event over the next couple years. Likewise, we have some new faces that have stepped up and gotten out of their comfort zone. Nathan Lincoln has run wherever we’ve asked him to and has been dancing back and forth between sprinting events and mid-distance. Phoenix Holt is another one that we’ve had try almost every event. John Campbell is still running really well in the 800-meter and has even had some top finishes this season.”

The Lady Devils have also had success this season, according to their head coach.

“Our competition record really attests to the fact that our girls have been successful this season,” Higgins said. “We’ve had top finishers on the girls’ side from almost every meet this season. We’ve also already had three girls qualify for the sectional.”

Having two athletes compete in the girls’ pentathlon on April 22 was a highlight of the season.

“The girls’ pentathlon was a really fun event to get to go to this year,” Higgins said. “We don’t always have athletes who are diversified enough to compete in the event. It says a lot about the caliber of athletes we have competing this year that we took not one, but two girls – Halie and Kayla – to the sectional pentathlon.”

Throwers for both the Blue Devils and Lady Devils have had success this season, as well.

“Our throwers have also been working incredibly hard this season,” Higgins said. “They spend a lot of time separated from the rest of the team because of their event, but in spite of this, they’ve done a great job of coaching and supporting each other. Natalia Mendoza is our senior thrower and she’s done a great job of being a leader and setting a standard for a high work ethic. Kenny Perciful has even already qualified for the sectional meet.”

• • •

The teams also competed in the conference meet held at Dobyns-Bennett on Friday, April 26. They were scheduled to compete at Science Hill on Tuesday, April 30, and at the invitation-only DB Ballad Health/Tri-Cities Sports meet on Friday, May 3.

“Our athletes have been working really hard this season and I don’t expect that to stop,” Higgins said. “As we’re nearing the end of the season I believe that we’ll see even more athletes qualify for the sectional meet.

“Unfortunately, athletes don’t get to progress to the postseason if they don’t meet certain qualifying standards for each event. If they meet these standards then they can progress to the sectional meet. I’d like to take as many as possible to the sectional meet so that our athletes have a chance to qualify for the state championships.”

Locals run in Boston Marathon

Jeff King (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

Each year, approximately 30,000 runners travel to Massachusetts for the Boston Marathon. Among that group this year were two runners from Unicoi County – Jeff King and Jennifer Norris.

King, a Unicoi County native and assistant coach for the Unicoi County High School girls’ basketball team, decided to start running a few years ago.

“About 7 years ago, when my oldest daughter Riley was a senior in high school they had held a 5K to raise money for cancer, and I thought that was a good cause so I ran it,” King said. “I thought I was going to pass out before I could get to the finish line, and my time was around 30 minutes. I remember thinking I was so out of shape.”

According to King, he would try to run one more race to force himself to run a little more and to try to get in better shape.

“So about three months later I scheduled another 5K race and I continued to train until the race. I finished 3 minutes faster than the first 5K and I was hooked.

Green, who is a Spanish teacher at UCHS, had a similar path to Boston.

“I would watch the Boston Marathon every year and I always wanted to go, and I realized the only thing stopping me was myself, because I never thought I could be fast enough to qualify,” Green said. “After watching the race in 2017, I found a qualifying race in Cary, North Carolina, and I worked so hard to train for that marathon. I qualified for Boston at the Tobacco Road Marathon in 2018.”

For Green the qualifier changed her life.

“That was a defining moment for me, both mentally and physically,” Green said.

To prepare for the Boston Marathon King and Green had to put in serious training hours.

“For this marathon I typically ran between 60-70 miles a week,” King said. “John Hensley, my training partner, and I ran six days a week and usually on Saturday we do a pace run of 20-24 miles. We typically do a track day on Wednesday and rest of the days we just run 6-10 miles at a comfortable pace.”

Green put in a similar training schedule.

“I am a teacher and a doctoral student at ETSU, and I have two young boys; so in order to get my training runs completed and not miss their activities, I always ran in the morning before school,” Green said. “There were many, many 4 a.m. treadmill runs.”

The two finished the Boston Marathon in very humid conditions. King ran a 3:13:19, with a 7-minute, 22-second pace per mile.

“We had a big storm blow through that morning and the humidity was pretty bad, but I was still happy with my time,” King said. “My quads were cramping pretty bad at the finish.”

For Green, the event was about finishing her first Boston Marathon, not about the time.

“It was a hard day, but I put my head down and made it to the finish line,” Green said. “My ultimate goal in going to the Boston Marathon was to finish, so I am proud of that – regardless of the time.”

The experience was a once-in-a-lifetime event for the two runners.

“Boston is unlike any marathon or race I have ever been in,” King said. “It’s like running in a sea of people, but everybody was friendly and I really enjoyed the experience.”

Green’s experience was memorable as well.

“It was humbling and hard, but amazing. I boarded the bus to the starting line that morning soaked from thunderstorms; it was dumping water on my head as the temperatures reached the upper 70s during the race, and I dealt with some excruciating leg cramps during the last mile of the race,” Green said. “You cannot complete 26.2 miles without a fight, and I fought that entire race.”

King plans on returning in 2020.

“My time did qualify me for next year’s Boston Marathon,” King said. “John (Hensley) just qualified for Boston at the Knoxville Marathon so I plan on running it again with him.”

Green plans on taking a break before talking about the Boston Marathon again.

“I do not anticipate returning to Boston right away; however, I love the marathon and would like to plan a fall marathon, as well as a few half marathons,” Green said. “I am enjoying this rest time right now.”

The two runners said they enjoyed their time in Boston.

“My wife Kerri and I really enjoyed the city. There is so much history,” King said. “We toured the Freedom Trail and visited several historical sites.”

For Green the experience at the marathon was overwhelming.

“The crowds were unreal, and the streets were lined the entire 26.2 miles,” Green said. “I had never experienced crowds like this before when running a race and as soon as I crossed the finish line, I was in tears.”

Green felt all the hard work pay off as she finished the marathon.

“I had poured so much work and sacrifice into that race, crossing the finish line was overwhelming,” said.

King and Green had advice for runners who are currently training.

“I would encourage anyone thinking of running to give it a try,” King said. “My rule of thumb is that most of your training needs to be at 60 percent of your max level,” King said. “If you can’t talk you’re probably running too fast, slow down and enjoy the run.”

Green added that the marathon is achievable, and it takes hard work, but it is worth it.

“It is worth every early morning and every training run,” Green said. “The strength you gain in training for a marathon is so much more than physical.”

The two runners admitted that it takes a team to prepare a runner to compete.

“My wife has been my biggest supporter,” King said. “She is the one who I wake up at 4 a.m. when I’m doing a morning run and she goes to most of my races to support me, and sometimes she will run a 5K with me,” King said. “Both my daughters Rilie and Kenedy always brag me up, and I appreciate John running with me. We have run in 6 inches of snow, 15-20 degrees days and wind/rain. No matter the conditions he is always ready to go.”

For Green, her support system came from those closest to her.

“I could not have made it to Boston without the support and encouragement of my family, friends and everyone at Unicoi County High School,” Green said.