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Blue Devils ready for postseason

Blue Devil second baseman Owen Nicholson fires the ball to third base against Greeneville on Saturday, April 30, at Baxter Field in Erwin. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Curtis Carden)
Blue Devil second baseman Owen Nicholson fires the ball to third base against Greeneville on Saturday, April 30, at Baxter Field in Erwin. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Curtis Carden)

By Curtis Carden

Blue Devil pitcher Gabe Thomas provided a solid outing on Senior Day, but Greeneville showed why they reign supreme in District 2-AA.

Thomas tossed a complete game and allowed just six hits, but the Green Devils strung together timely at-bats, led by a 3-for-4 performance from catcher Augustus Fraley, to win 3-1 on Saturday, April 30, during Unicoi County High School’s regular season home finale.

UCHS (12-16, TRC 9-3) recognized their seniors, Thomas and infielder Hunter Hensley, pregame and momentum carried over early in the contest. After a quick first inning by Greeneville, the Blue Devils struck first with center fielder Nick Fender drawing a walk. Shortstop Shaddon Peavyhouse did the honors of driving Fender home with a double to give UCHS the 1-0 lead.

The first inning was the bulk of the threat that the Green Devils would see from UCHS. While topping at No. 1 in Class AA in various polls across the state, Greeneville proved why, by allowing just three more hits the rest of the way, thanks to sophomore pitcher James Duer (7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 5 K, 1 BB).

“Instead of squaring it up, we were just catching the ball on top and driving it into the ground,” Blue Devil head coach Chad Gillis said. “We did it all day; we just didn’t make any in-game adjustments. (Duer) threw well for them, but we have to make adjustments in the game to win games like this.”

While the offense sputtered, Thomas had UCHS in a position to win the contest. He escaped a pair of dicey situations with pitch location. Greeneville plated two runs in the second, after a bobble in the infield, and scored the go-ahead run in the seventh after Mother Nature tossed a monkey wrench to a fly ball with hang time in right field. Without those two moments, the senior had his team on the right track, striking out four batters.

“Gabe’s last two outings have been magnificent,” Gillis said. “He hits his spots, his mechanics are good and he’s just smart on the mound. Situations come up and he knows how to respond. That’s expected out of Gabe at third base or on the mound. He’s definitely going to have an opportunity to lead us again in the district tournament.”

Thomas’ performance was just another item that has Blue Nation confident in their bullpen heading into next week’s District 1-AA tournament, according to Gillis.

“We have a lot of confidence in our pitchers,” he said. “I think we have more depth on the mound than anybody else in the conference. As long as we do what we’ve done, basically all year, on the mound, then we should be OK. We just need to make those plays behind them.”

Saturday’s contest did not bring what Blue Nation wanted, but can be a vital learning experience heading to the postseason, according to the head coach: “That they can play,” Gillis said about what he wanted his team to take out of the game with Greeneville. “Greeneville is No. 1 in the state in a couple of polls and we hung with them,” Gillis continued. “We’re just a couple of plays away from winning that game. We’ve not been able to finish and, hopefully between now and Friday, we’ll get that understanding of how to finish a seven-inning game, and play for seven innings. When we do that, we’re going to be tough.”

Fender, Thomas and Justin Laughren each had a hit Saturday for UCHS.

• • •

UCHS traveled to Cherokee on Friday, April 29, and had victory within their grasp before falling in walkoff fashion, 5-4, in the seventh inning.

“Cherokee is a good hitting team,” Gillis said. “The week before they shut down the kid from Sevier County, who is going to (the University of) Tennessee next year. It was a good ball game, we just lost it late.”

Gillis credited the Blue Devils’ performance after another solid showing on the mound from junior Dylan Putman.

“He struggled early,” he said, “but there in the third and fourth inning, we started to shut them down.”

• • •

Caleb Wilson moved his record to 8-1 on the year and the Blue Devils won in dominant fashion over Happy Valley 13-1 in five innings to cap off the Three Rivers Conference schedule.

Owen Nicholson led UCHS at the plate, going 4-for-4. Thomas and Putman added three hits each, while Hunter Higgins, Fender and Peavyhouse added two hits apiece.

• • •

UCHS was scheduled to end the regular season on Monday, May 2, at Mountain Heritage in North Carolina before taking to Dobyns-Bennett for district tourney action on Friday, May 6. The Blue Devils were tentatively scheduled to play Sullivan North at 5:30 p.m.