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Blue Devils to play for district championship

The Unicoi County High School baseball team may be under new management for baseball, but postseason success is still part of the tradition.
The Blue Devils (20-10) received a complete game effort from sophomore Dylan Putman on the mound and an offensive showcase in the first inning to defeat Sullivan South, 5-0, on Monday, May 4, at J.Fred Johnson Stadium during the winners’ bracket final of the District 1-AA baseball tournament.
The win ensured the Blue Devils a trip to the upcoming Region 1-AA tournament and a bid to the district championship set for Wednesday, May 6, at 6 p.m., against the winner of Tuesday’s Sullivan East/Sullivan South contest.
“It all starts on the mound,” said UCHS head coach Chad Gillis, who earned a bid to the region tournament in his first season at the helm. “Last game we played at South, they beat us to death basically in one inning … We knew they’d come out bunting and take advantage of anything that they could.
“But Putman did a great job tonight. He set the tone early, stuck with it and battled. He played with us on varsity last year and beat Elizabethton last season to end the regular season. He’s also plays varsity basketball, so he’s been in those situations.”
Putman, who moved his pitching record to 4-3 on the year, let his bat do the talking early with a bases-clearing three-RBI triple that followed Nick Fender’s RBI walk. Catcher Hunter Higgins also roped in a run-scoring hit to give the Blue Devils the go-ahead advantage.
Putman didn’t record a strikeout, but kept the shutout alive with solid pitch placement and help from his defense. Shaddon Peavyhouse and Nathan Derry kept the middle infield on lock while third baseman Gabe Thomas was able to tight-rope a couple of throws from his spot to ring out potential baserunners.
“I just wanted to go out and throw strikes,” Putman said. “My defense backed me up and bailed me out a lot. I’m just proud we came out and hit the ball. This was definitely a huge confidence booster for us.”
Derry added three hits for the Blue Devils in the victory
“With me, I’m always trying to figure out what we’re doing wrong,” Gillis said. “I’ve taken on the approach now of just letting us go out there and have fun. We’ll go out, do the things we know to do, and not worry about anything else. Our team’s bought into it and we have a great dugout atmosphere. Things are just rolling pretty well for us right now.”
• • •
Sam McInturff had the Patriots’ number once again from the mound.
Sullivan East threatened in the seventh inning, but a timely double play by the Blue Devils secured a 3-0 shutout in the second round of the district tournament on Saturday, May 2.
While McInturff kept the Pats off balance with his pitching, the senior helped anchor the Blue Devils’ offense in the bottom of first frame. After Derry led off with a line drive base hit, McInturff drove him across the plate.
Peavyhouse added another run off a single, giving UCHS the early 2-0 edge.
Derry and Peavyhouse helped their ace on the mound in the seventh, orchestrating the game-winning double play.
• • •
The Blue Devils opened postseason play on Friday, May 1, with a 5-3 victory over Sullivan North.
A win is a win but it wasn’t pretty, according to coach Gillis.
“We had a ton of pop-ups,” he said. “We weren’t finding the gaps, not taking the swings … maybe it was the nerves since we have a younger team. They also threw a good pitcher who we haven’t seen all year. He did well for them, but we have to make the adjustments to be successful and I thought we made enough to get the win today.”
UCHS struck first when McInturff ripped an RBI double in the second inning, scoring Fender, to give the Blue Devils an early 1-0 lead.
North took advantage in the top of the third inning, using the momentum of a squeeze bunt to move ahead 3-1.
Will Hubbard made noise for the Blue Devils to open the bottom of the third frame by leading off with a stand-up triple. Troy Podvin brought in his senior teammate on a sacrifice fly and Putman later scored to knot things up at 3-3.
After a staunch performance from Will Collins, Derry entered in relief in the top of the fourth inning and was able to shut the door on the Raiders to record his third win of the year.
“Derry’s done that all year,” Gillis said. “It’s become expected of him to do that. He’s a guy we can bring in for relief in any situation and he’s done well for us. I hated to use him in the first game, but we kept his pitch count low so he should be good for when we may need him later.”
Justin Laughren gave the Blue Devils the fourth run of the game with a sacrifice fly and UCHS later scored on a North miscue to earn the win.
Higgins and McInturff tacked on two hits each to lead the hitting for the Blue Devils.
• • •
UCHS capped off the regular season with a pair of non-conference games last week before the district tournament.
The Blue Devils fell on the wrong side of a 14-1 decision against Dobyns-Bennett on Tuesday, April 28, but ended the regular season in style by earning a 7-5 victory over David Crockett in Jonesborough on Wednesday, April 29.
Freshman Caleb Wilson earned his second win of the year, while Hubbard cranked his second home run of the season in the game. Higgins led the Blue Devils at the plate with a 2-3 effort.