The third full week of April proved to be a roller coaster for Lucas Slagle and the Unicoi County baseball team.
After watching their opportunity to win the Upper Lake Conference disappear by suffering a home-and-home sweep to Tennessee High on Monday and Tuesday, the Blue Devils bounced back to defeat Science Hill — the top-ranked Class 4A team in the state — on Friday night at TVA Credit Union Ballpark in Johnson City.
Slagle, who pitched impressively for a long stretch but took the loss against Tennessee High on Monday in Erwin, went 4-for-4 with a double, a home run and five RBIs in the 13-7 defeat of the nationally ranked Hilltoppers.
Brayden Hendrickson (3-for-4, four runs, two doubles, two RBIs) and Nicky Satterly (2-for-5, two doubles, two runs, two RBIs) also had big games and the Blue Devils piled up 15 hits against Science Hill.
Unicoi County coach Chad Gillis was thrilled to put a feather in the cap of a program that won four state titles (1984, ’91, ’92, ’95) and finished state runner-up five times under Charlie Baxter (1975-97).
“What a history here, and it all goes back to Charlie,” Gillis said. “It is where a lot of my pride comes from, because I was that kid at 8, 9, 10 and 11 years old in the ’90s sneaking into games and watching those guys play. In ’95 I was 12. I had back-to-back state championship shirts. I can remember I’m in fifth grade and our fifth-grade teacher — we stopped class to listen to the state tournament game with a radio. ...
“This program means a lot to me. So when something like that Science Hill win happens, I’m teetering on the edge (emotionally). I saw how much it meant to the kids and that means a lot for our program to beat a team like that. I don’t care how many years it’s been. We’ve gone over and gotten whipped and we’ve played close games and never seem to be able to pull it out. I was excited for the kids and the program.”
Slagle capped his perfect night at the plate with the homer.
“He smoked it,” Gillis said. “It was like somebody shot it out of a cannon. I’m telling you, I’ve seen some hard-hit baseballs, but that one was a rocket.
“Lucas has been swinging it better. We’ve been talking a lot about him swinging with confidence in BP swings. Him and Satterly, Hendrickson — all those guys — had big hits in that first inning. Satterly’s coming in to himself again and I think we’ve got Chris Chavez going in the right direction. He hit a bomb. I don’t think he’s ever hit any ball that far. ... He hit a bomb. He unloaded on it and it just barely hooked foul.”
Chavez was 2-for-3 with a run and a walk. Tanner Berry was 1-for-3 with a double, a walk and three RBIs. Leadoff batter Alex Green was 1-for-2 with three runs and two walks.
Gavin Tipton allowed seven runs in 6 1/3 innings for the victory. Three of those runs came in the seventh.
“He gave up two in the first and he settled down a little bit,” Gillis said. “They’re a really good baseball team. And they played well. I think that was their fourth game this week.
“I kind of had a feeling all day, though, because we had a tough week. We lost one at home against Tennessee High and then we go over there and lose. So it’s not been an easy week.”
Tennessee High won 7-4 in Erwin on April 17. Slagle had struck out 11 in 5 2/3 innings when Brayln Price hit a tie-breaking three-run home run with two out in the top of the sixth to chase Slagle after 118 pitches.
“Lucas battled,” Gillis said. “I think he’s getting his velocity back. The last two games he’s had his velocity. They’re a good-hitting team. Coach (Adam) Cross is a great coach with those guys — and Preston (Roberts) is, too.”
Catcher Valentin Batrez, who was scheduled to sign with Milligan on April 24, hit a two-run home run.
The Vikings won 10-7 on Tuesday in Bristol. Slagle and Satterly each went 3-for-4. Hendrickson and Kolby Jones each hit a home run. Jones, a freshman who took the loss on the mound, was 2-for-3 with two runs and two RBIs.
The back-to-back losses to Tennessee High were disheartening. And Gillis wasn’t happy with his players’ level of collective pain on the ride home from Bristol.
But rebounding to beat Science Hill in the nonconference matchup was a healer.
“It absolutely can be a springboard,” Gillis said. “I told them they proved what level they can play at. We’ve just got to always play to that standard.”