By Keeli Parkey
Another season – another Three Rivers Conference crown.
With a 5-1 victory at Elizabethton on Wednesday, April 25, the Unicoi County High School baseball team (18-11, 10-2) claimed its second consecutive conference championship. It was a game where the Blue Devils could win the crown outright with a victory, or share the title because of a loss.
“We came out and played well today,” head coach Chad Gillis said. “They showed some maturity and bounced back after a tough loss at home.”
UCHS had a chance to win the conference outright earlier last week, but lost to Elizabethton on April 23. Luckily for the Blue Devils, Happy Valley defeated Sullivan East which kept their hopes of winning a league title outright alive.
“I am excited for my guys to win a conference championship,” Gillis said.
Senior pitcher Clay Simpson (4-0) stayed perfect on the season with a solid performance against the Cyclones. Simpson gave up two hits and struck out 12 batters. He also helped his cause by going 2-4 at the plate.
“Clay dominated on the mound and we had kids come up and do work in big offensive situations,” Gillis said.
Senior Caleb Wilson was 3-4 in the game, including one double and one triple, and had 2 RBIs. Junior Brett Strother was 2-4.
The Blue Devils will be the top seed going into this weekend’s District 1-AA tournament thanks to the conference championship. UCHS is expected to play its first postseason game at Cardinal Park at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 5. Their opponent has not yet been determined. The tournament will continue into next week.
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After getting the job done in conference play, the Blue Devils ended the week with two non-conference contests.
UCHS lost at Daniel Boone, 10-4, on Friday, April 27.
“We came out and made multiple defensive errors and didn’t hit the ball like we can,” Gillis said. “They are a really solid hitting team and when you give them freebies, they will make you pay.”
Junior pitcher Keaton Casey (3-2) took the loss. Wilson was 3-4 at the plate with two doubles.
The Blue Devils bounced back the following day with a 7-6 victory over David Crockett in Erwin.
“This was another tough win for us,” Gillis said. “David Crockett is a much-improved team and they tied the game up with a 3-run home run the top of the seventh. We fought back and got guys on base. Caleb Crain executed a suicide squeeze play to tie the game and Hunter Higgins had the game-winning hit.”
Sophomore pitcher Peyton Whitson earned the win on the mound. Wilson had another 3-hit game, including two doubles. Troy Podvin and Brett Strother were both 3-4. Owen Nicholson was 2-5, including a home run and 2 RBIs.
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The Blue Devils have wrapped up the regular season. They lost, 10-0, at Science Hill on Monday, April 30, and hosted Dobyns-Bennett on Tuesday, May 1, after the press deadline for this issue.