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.