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Blue Devil baseball team starts season 2-2

Unicoi County High School freshman Brayden Hendrickson makes a diving stop at third base during the Blue Devils’ win over David Crockett on March 12. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Trey Williams

Junior Kaleb Metcalf got into the swing of things quickly to help Unicoi County’s baseball team record a quality non-conference win during the opening week of the season.

Metcalf went 3-for-4 with a walk-off RBI single in Thursday’s 7-6 win against David Crockett. It was part of a 2-2 week that included a home-and-home Three Rivers Conference split with Sullivan East on Monday, March 9, and Tuesday, March 10, and a loss at West Greene on Saturday, March 14.

Metcalf went with a pitch to deliver the game-winner.

“Most of the time I feel like I’m doing pretty good at this point compared to where I’ve been in years past,” he said. “Taking the outside part to the opposite field, I feel like I’m doing better with that this year. With Coach Gillis that’s really what we went after this offseason – really trying to drive opposite field on the outside pitch. …

“Crockett’s pretty good. It was pretty big for us honestly, because it’s the start of the year and we’re still figuring each other out. A lot of new kids have come in. And it was big for us with team chemistry.”

Metcalf, primarily a first baseman last season, will also be a conference starter on the mound. Staff ace Peyton Whitson sustained an off-the-field leg injury last week that could keep him out a month or so.

After losing 4-0 at East on Monday, the Blue Devils returned home for a 3-1 victory Tuesday thanks to the strong pitching of Whitson. Whitson struck out 12 in 6 1/3 innings, allowing five hits and one run. Jordan Bridges saved it.

“Metcalf threw a lot against Class AAA teams last year. Jordan Bridges will probably fill that other spot (in Whitson’s absence),” Unicoi sixth-year coach Chad Gillis said. He threw against Crockett.”

Two freshmen have hit the ground running. Catcher Valentin Batrez and Lucas Slagle, an excellent basketball player, both look like can’t-miss studs on the diamond.

Slagle scored the winning run against Crockett after hitting a three-run home run. Batrez was 2-for-4.

“Batrez is hitting over .400 right now the first four games,” Gillis said. “He threw out the leadoff guy against East the other night and he’s thrown out a couple of more in there, too. …

“Pressure doesn’t faze him. He came up with a big hit and couple of RBIs against Crockett. He did the same thing last night with a couple of RBIs (against West Greene).”

The loss to West Greene was a buzzkill after two straight victories.

“We ended up getting beat down there with two outs in the bottom of the seventh,” Gillis said. “But you can’t go somewhere and expect to win with five throwing errors. And West Greene swings the bat. They want to hit it and they want to hit it hard. They have an older group.

“Sometimes in high school baseball you’re gonna make errors. You just have to move on from ‘em after you learn from them. But it definitely stung a little bit. You beat Crockett and you think you’re on a roll. With a young, young team you beat and you’re like, ‘Alright, we might be going somewhere.’ Not that that’s changed in my mind at all, but it brought us down. I think we got better today (Sunday), though. Everybody came to practice with a good attitude.”

Sophomore shortstop Gavyn Sawyer has been a pleasant surprise, to say the least, since moving from Asheville in October. Sawyer went 7-for-13 (.538) with a home run and three RBIs last week.

“He’s a good shortstop,” Gillis said, “and he can hit it.”

Last week’s game will be the last for awhile for the Blue Devils and other Unicoi County sports.

School system officials announced on Monday, March 16, that county schools will be closed until April 13 due to coronavirus concerns. No sports will be played during that time.