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Devils win third consecutive district

The Unicoi County High School Blue Devil baseball team won a district championship and earned home field advantage in the semifinals of the Region 1-AA semifinals with a 7-3 victory over Sullivan South in the championship round of the District 1-AA baseball tournament at J.Fred Johnson Stadium on Wednesday, May 6. UCHS was scheduled to play Granger on Tuesday, May 12, in the Region 1-AA semifinals after The Erwin Record’s press deadline.
The win netted the Blue Devils their third consecutive district championship.
The team carried over momentum from their 7-5 win in the regular season finale against David Crockett to the tournament, according to head coach Chad Gillis.
“We’ve improved a ton since the start of the season,” the head coach said. “We could never really find a groove during the season. We were up, then down. We hit a stretch that we won maybe five or six in a row until the tournament.
“I knew the game against David Crockett would be big for us and it turned out it was. In the game, we just saw something click. The guys knew what their goals were and carried it over into the tournament.”
Sam McInturff, who garnered tournament MVP honors, scattered five hits over seven innings and struck out seven Rebels in the district title game for his seventh win of the season.
“Sam’s been a workhorse for us,” Gillis said. “He’s really stepped up to become our number one pitcher. He never gets visibly-rattled and has been a leader for us on and off the field.”
Nick Fender (2-4, 2RBI) led off the contest with a line drive to center field to give the Blue Devils an early 2-0 advantage after a leadoff error was followed by a walk in the first inning.
The Rebels knotted things up in the bottom of the second frame, but the Blue Devils roared back with a two-RBI double from Hunter Higgins and an RBI base hit from Shaddon Peavyhouse to take a 5-2 lead.
McInturff added a sacrifice fly out later that plated a run and Dylan Putman added an RBI hit in the seventh to ultimately seal the contest.
It was new territory for Gillis, who entered his first year with a relatively young Blue Devil squad.
“Going into the year there was a lot of pressure,” he said. “A lot of the pressure was put on by myself. You look at the history and tradition of the program, you’re sitting in a long shadow. I was able to surround myself with great coaches, coach Andy (Baxter) and coach (Keith) Greer have been great to work with and we talk everyday to prepare and our kids bought into the system.
“I thought about it on the way home. It’s nice to be able to add a piece to the tradition and bring a trophy back to the field house. I played under coach (Chris) Bogart and was part of championships and it is a good feeling to know that we were able to add something else and we hope to add more for the years to come.”
Nathan Derry, Will Hubbard and Putman were named the district all-tournament team.