By Curtis Carden
Chuckey-Doak pitcher Tanner Barkley handled business on both sides of the plate, tossing 11 strikeouts and hitting a solo home run in the top of the second inning to lead his team to a 2-1 win over the Unicoi County High School baseball team in the Region 1-AA tournament semifinals.
The loss ended the 2016 season for the Blue Devils.
“This is a traditionally-tough place to play,” C-D head coach Jason Rush said. “They have tough teams year in and year out and this year was no different. When Tanner is on, he can be lights out and be hard to hit. Our defense really backed us up.”
The Blue Devils (17-18) knew the task was tough heading into Monday, according to head coach Chad Gillis.
“They’re a good team,” Gillis said. “Barkley really pumped it up. We weren’t swinging at great pitches there at the end and he was throwing gas.”
UCHS retired the side quickly in the first inning, but left a runner in scoring position in the bottom half to keep things scoreless. The Black Knights drove in both their runs in the top of the second when Barkley belted a ball over the left field fence and Chase Waggoner followed it up with an RBI single, scoring Josh Malone.
Blue Nation had their rally caps on in the sixth inning, utilizing designated hitter Justin Laughren. After a base hit, Laughren ended up on third base and Gabe Thomas was at first after an error with two out. Gillis put on the double steal and Laughren made it to home plate to put the Devils on the scoreboard.
But Barkley had things clicking, recording three of the final four outs off strikeouts.
Monday’s contest put a stamp on a relatively successful year for the Blue Devils. After a rocky start to the season and a third place finish in the Three Rivers Conference, UCHS came alive in the District 1-AA tournament by winning two straight games to earn their third consecutive title.
“Our guys never gave up,” Gillis said. “They never gave in and I’m very proud of the season they had. They fought until the last out. There were a lot of ups and downs this season. I was hoping to make a run in the tournament, but we’re young. We’ll return everybody back, except for our seniors (Thomas and Hunter Hensley). Hopefully we’ll learn from this and get better.”
The experience will be key heading into 2017, Gillis added.
“I don’t want to say we need to come out hot, but we need to come out prepared,” he said about next season. “I feel like we prepared the kids this year, but I feel like the maturity was an issue for us at the beginning of this year with our defense. In the district, we fixed it, but we’re looking to continually build off that for next season.”
Nick Fender, Dylan Putman and Caleb Wilson added hits during Monday’s contest. Wilson tossed a solid outing after the second inning and the loss was just the second of the year for the sophomore.
Jacob Willett led the Black Knights with two hits.
• • •
The Blue Devils used an exciting turnaround to pick up the District 1-AA championship in a 2-0 triumph over Sullivan South on Thursday, May 12, at J. Fred Johnson Stadium.
While UCHS was no-hit by Rebel pitcher Matthew Copas, Putman brought his own fire by tossing the shutout with four strikeouts. Putman was backed up by a solid defensive effort that included a double play late in the game by shortstop Shaddon Peavyhouse that ended any chances of a rally by South.
Thomas and Peavyhouse raced across home plate after back-to-back infield errors in the fifth, providing the cushion to earn the victory.
UCHS made its way into the decisive game two by earning a 2-1 win over Sullivan South the day before thanks to a solid pitching performance from tournament MVP Troy Podvin.
Owen Nicholson, who scored early on Wednesday, Thomas and Putman were named to the all-tournament team.