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Coach: Team first to earn state berth in age division

It was close but no cigar for the Unicoi County Little League 9- and 10-year-old all-star baseball team.
The Blue Devils made their postseason worthwhile this year by earning a bid to their division’s Little League State Tournament in Tullahoma. After a busy slate of games, the boys from Unicoi County fell in the losers’ bracket to St. Bethlehem, 14-4, in Tullahoma on Sunday, July 12.
The loss brought the history-making postseason to an end. The Blue Devils were the first baseball team from Unicoi County to qualify for the state in the 9-10 division, according to Unicoi County Little League officials.
“I’ve been in baseball since before the 1990s,” coach Aaron Banner said. “I can say that I don’t remember any 9 and 10 year olds making it to state tournament.”
It was a drive during the all-star season that made the team successful, Banner added.
“They were motivated to make it to the state tournament,” he said. “Now that they got a taste of it, they want more. You’ll see this team as 11 and 12 year olds and I can bet you they’ll make it to the state tournament then and carry that over to the high school level.
“There were good teams in the tournament. We just struggled early on, but our guys didn’t give up. Seeing the smiles on their faces for making it to the state tournament made it all worthwhile and I enjoyed the time with them this year.”
Bristol nearly threw a wrench into the Blue Devils plan last week in the district tournament in Johnson City. Both teams met in the championship with Bristol forcing a second title contest by defeating the Blue Devils, 14-11, on Monday, July 6.
Behind a solid pitching effort, the Blue Devil youngsters earned the trip to the state tournament by knocking off Bristol, 6-1, in the championship.
The Blue Devils battled in the opening round of the tournament on Saturday, July 11, and came up just shy against Morristown in an 11-10 decision.
Eli Nelson tossed a respectable outing for the Blue Devils while Lucas Slagle had the boom stick on his side with two home runs.
The 9- and 10-year-old all-stars were comprised of Slagle, Nelson, Logan Groom, Nehemiah Edwards, Valentine Batrez, Tate Kerns, Jordan Grindstaff, Gavin Tipton, Blake Edney, Cody Rainbolt, Chris Batrez. Banner was joined by Jonathan Tipton and Steve Nelson on the coaching staff.
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The UCLL 11- and 12-year-old softball all-stars went through the terrain of the postseason and fell just one game shy of punching a ticket to the Little League state tournament.
After a controversial call midway through the game, Daniel Boone took a 2-1 decision against the ladies of Erwin on Wednesday, July 8, in Gray.
Daniel Boone and UCLL met three times during the district bracket. The Lady Trailblazers forced UCLL to the losers’ bracket. UCLL netted victories against Carter County and Daniel Boone to force the “if necessary” championship game.
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UCLL 7- and 8-year-old all stars nearly made their way to the district tournament last week, but were unable to nab a victory against Daniel Boone during zone play in Johnson City.
After a tournament-opening loss to the Trailblazers, the Blue Devils continued throughout the zone by earning back-to-back victories over two Johnson City Little League teams before falling to Boone once again in the zone finals.