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Blue Devil baseball team hanging onto top spot in conference

Caleb Wilson is hit by a pitch during the Blue Devils’ win over Sullivan Central in Erwin. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

A little bit of luck kept the Unicoi County High School baseball team (16-9, 9-2) as the leader of the Three Rivers Conference.

The Blue Devils lost a critical game to Elizabethton, 9-2, on Monday, April 23. The win gave the Cyclones a 9-3 league record, while the loss dropped the Blue Devils to 9-2. Luckily for Erwin’s team, Sullivan East, which was 8-2 in league play going into Monday, lost to Happy Valley and now has three conference losses.

“This was a big game for us and we just dropped the ball,” Blue Devil head coach Chad Gillis said of Monday’s loss to Elizabethton. “We only had 5 hits and 2 runs, with 3 errors defensively.  We just haven’t clicked offensively all year and now is the time we need this.”

Pitcher Caleb Wilson (5-2) took the loss for UCHS. Owen Nicholson went 2-3 at the plate.

UCHS traveled to Elizabethton to face the Cyclones again on Tuesday, April 24, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. With a win, the Blue Devils clinched the Three Rivers Conference regular season title and will go into the upcoming District 1-AA tournament as the top seed.

• • •

The Blue Devils defeated Sullivan Central twice last week in conference play.

On April 17, UCHS went on the road to win 15-1.

“Tonight was a good conference win for us,” Gillis said. “We had a good couple days off and showed back up on Tuesday ready to play. Caleb Wilson gave another dominant performance on the mound. Caleb has done a tremendous job this season, he always gives us a chance to win ball games.”

The Blue Devil offense showed up with a bang during the game.

“We came out and hit the ball well tonight,” Gillis said. “We managed 15 runs on 17 hits. This was good to see, having started slow in some games of similar circumstance. I feel like we may be hitting our stride and beginning to click; if so, there is not a much better time to do so.”

Wilson earned his fifth win of the season, allowing only 1 run on 2 hits and throwing 12 strikeouts.

Keaton Casey was 3-4 with 4 RBIs. Nicholson was 2-3 at the plate with 2 RBIs. Hunter Higgins was 2-4 with 2 RBIs. Troy Podvin was 3-4.

The following day, the Blue Devils got off to a slow start in Erwin, but managed to defeat the Cougars again.

“We came out a little flat tonight, but found a way to win the game,” Gillis said. “Clay (Simpson) battled all night and dominated all but three of Sullivan Central’s hitters. They had three guys with some pop and we just couldn’t stop those guys tonight. … We had some mental lapses on defense and on the bases tonight, but we pulled it out.  We must put this one behind us, be happy we won, and learn from our mistakes.”

Simpson tied the game with a home run and the game went into extra innings. Podvin came on in relief in the top of the eighth and helped keep Central off the scoreboard. In the bottom of the eighth, UCHS loaded the bases and Podvin provided the game-winning hit. The Blue Devils won the game, 6-5.

Simpson had 13 strikeouts and gave up 5 runs on 8 hits. Podvin earned the win.

Nicholson was 3-5. Podvin was 2-5. Simpson was 2-4 with 2 home runs.

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Despite holding an 8-0 lead in the fifth inning, the Blue Devils couldn’t hang on to get a non-conference win against West Greene on Thursday, April 19.

“West Greene exploded to 10 runs in the fifth and sixth innings,” Gillis said.

Casey (3-1) took the loss on the mound. Wilson was 2-3 at the plate. Brett Strother hit a home run.

UCHS bounced back from the loss two days later to defeat non-conference foe Cherokee, 13-5, in Erwin. Ramon Avila earned the win on the mound.

“We played well and had plenty of offense,” Gillis said. “Ramon has pitched well all year and finally gets his first win.

Nicholson and Casey were both 3-3. Podvin was 2-4 with a home run.

• • •

The Blue Devils will conclude the regular season in the coming days. They will travel to Daniel Boone on Friday, April 27, for a game at 6 p.m. They will host David Crockett at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 28, and will travel to Science Hill on Monday, April 30, at 6 p.m. The final regular season game will be played in Erwin on Tuesday, May 1, at 5:30 p.m. against Dobyns-Bennett.