By Trey Williams
Unicoi County baseball pitchers seemed to be producing more donuts than Dunkin’ last week. The Blue Devils swept Sullivan Central with a pair of shutouts in a Three Rivers Conference doubleheader in Erwin on Tuesday and blanked Chuckey-Doak, 9-0, on Friday.
Jordan Bridges pitched a two-hit shutout in a 10-0 defeat of Central in game one on Tuesday. He struck out nine.
“Jordan had great game on the mound,” Unicoi County coach Chad Gillis said. “He throws a lot of strikes and lets his defense work. We came out a little flat, but Jordan held them off offensively until we started to hit the ball around.”
Kaleb Metcalf pitched a four-hit shutout in game two – an 11-0 Blue Devils victory. Metcalf also struck out nine batters.
“Kaleb followed up Bridges’ outing with a nine-K performance himself,” Gillis said. “Kaleb set the tone early on the mound and we added five runs in the bottom of the (first) inning. We are very proud of the performance from both guys (Tuesday).”
Travis Whitson pitched five shutout innings in the win against Chuckey-Doak. Whitson allowed one hit and struck out 11. Lucas Slagle preserved the shutout with two innings of relief. Slagle tallied four strikeouts.
“Travis had a dominating performance,” Gillis said. “Doak just couldn’t hit his fastball. He was locating his pitches well and his slider kept them off balance. This is probably the best I have seen from Travis so far. “Lucas followed up with much of the same. Lucas was spotting pitches and his breaking ball was working really well.”
Slagle, a sophomore, also was a weapon at the plate. He was the lone Blue Devil with two hits in the opening game against Sullivan Central, and one of those was his second home run of the season. He also hit a home run against Chuckey-Doak.
“We are hitting the ball great,” Slagle said. “We have one through nine getting timely hits and knocking in runs, and I still feel like we haven’t reached our full potential. Also dominating the mound like we have been is a huge part of who we are as a team. We have great arms and a lot of them.”
Metcalf (3-0, 1.42 ERA) has allowed 11 hits and one walk while striking out 27 in 19 innings. Whitson (2-0, 0.00 ERA) has allowed two hits and two walks while striking out 18 in nine innings. Bridges (2-1, 1.93 ERA) has given up 10 hits and walked two while striking out 22 in 14 innings, and Slagle (2.25 ERA) has fanned nine and walked one in eight innings. Gillis expects to have one more power arm, Brayden Hendrickson, available at some point. Hendrickson is hitting, but nursing a tender arm. “When Hendrickson gets healthy again he is a weapon off the mound also,” Slagle said.
Hendrickson had two hits in the nightcap victory against Central, as did catcher Valentin Batrez. One of Batrez’s hits was his first home run of the season. Batrez added three hits against Chuckey-Doak, including another home run.
“Valley behind the plate is a tone setter from his first throw-down,” Slagle said.
Whitson and Bridges each had two hits against the Black Knights. Batrez is leading the team in hitting (.500, 14-for-28), doubles (five) and RBIs (12). He has walked five times and struck out once. Slagle leads the team in home runs (three) and is second with 10 RBIs and four doubles. Bridges is hitting .355 (second on the team) with nine RBIs (third) and five stolen bases (second). Shortstop Gavyn Sawyer leads the team with 13 runs and 10 stolen bases.
“I feel like we are a small thing or two away,” Slagle said, “from really being a great baseball team.”
The Blue Devils were scheduled to play Elizabethton on April 5-6 in a key Three Rivers Conference showdown. Unicoi County is slated to take on Pigeon Forge (Thursday), Walker Valley (Friday) and The King’s Academy (Saturday) in the Smoky Mountain Invitational.