By Keeli Parkey
A loss in first round of the Region 1-AA tournament brought the 2018 season to a close for the Unicoi County High School baseball team (20-15).
Their second-place finish in the District 1-AA tournament last week sent a Blue Devils to Greeneville where they faced the District 2-AA champion Green Devils in the region tournament on Monday, May 14. In the do-or-die game, UCHS struggled at the plate and failed to score a single run as Greeneville won the game, 5-0.
“We didn’t have enough players make the necessary adjustments at the plate to give us a chance,” Blue Devil head coach Chad Gillis said. “We struggled to hit the ball solid against their pitcher and our approach never changed.”
Senior pitcher Clay Simpson (4-3) kept the Blue Devils in the game for several innings.
“Clay pitched well today,” Gillis said. “He dominated in the first 4 innings, but had a few walks that put runs across the plate.”
Senior Raben Reed and junior Garrett Manuel each had two hits in the game. Seniors Owen Nicholson and Caleb Wilson and junior Caleb Crain had one hit each.
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The Blue Devils staved off elimination from the postseason with a 9-3 victory over Sullivan East in the losers’ bracket of the District 1-AA tournament on May 8 at Cardinal Park in Johnson City.
It was evident that his team wasn’t ready for the season to end from the first pitch of the game.
“I thought we came out ready to play in the game,” Gillis said. “Keaton (Casey) gave us five good innings and Ramon Avila came in and closed the game out. Both pitchers did all they could do to get us a win in game one. We came out hitting the ball well also. Nicholson led off the game with an inside the park home run and this gave us a spark to start the game. This would have been an easy game to come out and play lousy after getting beat up the night before. I thought the guys responded well as a whole.”
Casey (3-2), a junior, earned the win on the mound.
At the plate, senior Hunter Higgins was 3-4 with 4 RBIs. Sophomore Peyton Whitson was 2-3. Nicholson and Crain were both 1-2 in the win.
The win over East qualified the Blue Devils to the region tournament and sent them to play Elizabethton – a team they lost to 11-0 in the district on May 7 – for the district title. To win the district, UCHS had to defeat ‘Betsy twice.
The Blue Devils had a chance to defeat Elizabethton after they defeated East on May 8, but could not get the win over a Cyclone team that is playing its best baseball at the right time. ‘Betsy defeated UCHS, 7-1.
Avila (1-3), a sophomore pitcher for the Blue Devils, took the loss.
“Ramon came back out and started the second game against a hot Elizabethton team,” Gillis said. “He shut them down for three innings to protect our 1-0 lead. We made a couple mistakes and they got a couple base hits to put them up. I thought we fought hard for seven innings. Ramon and Peyton Whitson kept their bats quiet until the late innings and that’s all you can ask for. Offensively, we had multiple opportunities to get runners across, but just couldn’t execute.”
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Overall, Gillis said he felt that the 2018 season was a successful one for his program.
“I feel like we had a good season,” he said. “We won 20 games and beat some really good teams along the way.”
Unfortunately, the Blue Devils weren’t as solid on offense as they needed to be.
“I don’t think we ever found our rhythm at the plate all season, but we did pitch well the majority of the season,” Gillis said.
The 2018 season saw inexperienced players step up and provide valuable innings for the team.
“Some younger guys stepped up and filled some spots where we had injuries,” Gilli said. “I am very proud of how those guys prepared day in and day out to be ready when called on. This group won our second consecutive conference championship and earned a regional game and they should be proud of what they accomplished.”
Graduating from the program will be seniors Hunter Higgins, Owen Nicholson, Troy Podvin, Raben Reed, Clay Simpson and Caleb Wilson.
“We will definitely miss those seniors,” Gillis said. “They were the group that came in with me as head coach and they mean a lot to me and the program. All of those seniors will be successful in their baseball and education at the collegiate level.”