By Keeli Parkey
A familiar foe ended the Unicoi County High School season for the third consecutive year.
Christian Academy of Knoxville (CAK) defeated the Lady Devils (33-14), 11-1, in substate action on Friday, May 19, in Knoxville. The victory sent CAK – the defending state champions – to the state tournament and ended the season for UCHS.
“It was a tough loss,” head coach Grady Lingerfelt told The Erwin Record.
Things didn’t go well for UCHS from the start of the CAK contest. Errors by the Lady Devils in the home half of the first inning led to four runs for the Lady Warriors.
“It’s no fun to go down there and play,” Lingerfelt said. “If any team has a home-field advantage, they have one – with the turf and the ball taking crazy bounces. Those errors in the first inning got us off to a real bad start.”
The Lady Devils responded in the second inning, adding 1 run after junior Halie Padgett reached on a single and Hope Bailey, in as a courtesy runner for Padgett, scored on Savannah Lafever’s RBI-single.
CAK squashed any hope of a comeback by UCHS in the bottom half of the second, third and fourth innings. The Lady Warriors scored 2, 3 and 2 runs, respectively to win the game and advance to the state tournament.
“They are a very good team,” Lingerfelt said of CAK. “They won the state last year and it’s the same bunch of girls. They lost their shortstop from last year, but everyone else is back. They have five girls who are going to play college softball. They are very good. That’s all you can say.”
Leading the Lady Devils at the plate were seniors Neelee Griffith and sophomore Halie Hawkins who had 2 hits each. Tanya Chavez, Lafever, Rylee Stiltner and Padgett each had 1 hit for UCHS. Lafever had the team’s only RBI.
The loss to CAK was the final game as a Lady Devil for the team’s six seniors – Neelee Griffith, Ashley Edwards, Keelie Hall, Savannah Lafever, Faith Bailey and Hannah Bowen.
“They are all good softball players who contributed a lot to the program,” Lingerfelt said. “We hate to lose them.”
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UCHS had to go on the road to face CAK in the substate game due to a loss to Elizabethton in the Region 1-AA title game played on Wednesday, May 17, in Carter County.
It certainly didn’t appear that the Lady Cyclones had any chance of winning the region crown early in the game as the visiting Lady Devils jumped out to a 5-0 lead after their first two at-bats, including a 2-run home run by Chavez.
“We really hit the ball hard early in the game,”Lingerfelt said. “I thought we were in clear sailing after we went up 5-0. As it turns out, that didn’t last.”
Elizabethton’s offense came alive in the their half of the second inning, scoring 4 runs to cut the Lady Devils’ lead to 1, 5-4. After both teams went scoreless in the third inning, Elizabethton took the lead in the fourth, scoring 2 runs for a 6-5 advantage.
“We didn’t make any errors in the game,” Lingerfelt said. “Usually you start kicking the ground when people start coming back like that. But, they got base hit after base hit – hard base hits. And, they had some bloopers that landed just out of the reach of people.”
The Lady Devils tied the game, 6-6, in the top of the fifth when Bowen’s double scored Padgett from first base. Any momentum UCHS built in that inning disappeared in the bottom half of the inning when ‘Betsy added four more runs for a 10-6 lead.
“Our lead just didn’t hold up,” Lingerfelt said. “It just wasn’t meant to be.”
Stiltner and Bowen had 2 hits and an RBI each in the loss. Chavez (1 HR, 2 RBIs), N. Griffith, Hall (1 RBI), Padgett, Allee Griffith and Hawkins (1 RBI) each contributed a hit.