By Curtis Carden
The first week of the 2016 season was a mixed bag for the Unicoi County High School Lady Devil softball team.
The Lady Blue Devils turned in a 1-1 overall record to kick off the season. The squad started strong with a 4-1 victory on the road at Johnson County on Tuesday, March 15, but fell in their home opener to Elizabethton on Thursday, March 17.
Thursday was a big night for Lady Cyclone Lauren Brickey, who went yard in the first inning and followed it up with a grand slam in the top of the fifth.
“We have so much respect for coach (Grady) Lingerfelt, his program over here and the girls,” Lady Cyclone head coach Kenny Hardin said. “The girls here work just as hard as we do. They’re always going to be good. Years ago when I first started, we were the team that was getting blown out like that. We just had a good day at the plate and I’m proud of the girls, but I told them it’s still early and we have to come back and play like this every night.”
Following the two-run first inning by Elizabethton, the Lady Devils put away the Lady Cyclones in order in the next two frames, including a nice snag in left field by Cassi Foster in the top of the second.
In the bottom of the third inning, Lady Devil catcher Halie Hawkins got on base with a single, but the Lady Devils were unable to get runners across, thanks, in part to the seven strikeout performance by Lady Cyclone pitcher Kellie Cunningham.
Abby Hensley tacked on a double in the game, along with an inning of relief work. Ashlie Padgett, Savannah Lafever and Foster also added hits in the game for UCHS.
“It was a tough day,” Lingerfelt said. “We’ll learn from this and battle back. We have the potential and the talent, but we have to keep improving everyday to get there. We’ve got a tough Science Hill team coming here Monday and then we’re hosting Sullivan East on Thursday, so we have to be ready to play.”
Hannah Bowen picked up the loss after battling back from a tough first inning. Bowen finished the contest giving up nine hits with two strikeouts.
Elizabethton was led by Macie Herman and Brickey, both of whom went 3-4 at the plate.
Bowen went the distance in a complete game, allowing one unearned run off three hits as the Lady Devils dispatched Johnson County on Tuesday in Mountain City.
Lingerfelt praised the sophomore pitcher, who made her varsity pitching debut against an always competitive Lady Longhorn group.
“Hannah pitched really well on Tuesday,” Lingerfelt said. “She was hitting her strides and had things going for us.”
The game marked the season and conference opener for the Lady Devils, after their Monday non-conference contest against Dobyns-Bennett was rained out.
UCHS mustered five hits in the contest against Johnson County, against stiff competition from Lady Longhorn pitcher Brianna Snyder, who struck out three. The Lady Devils were able to get the bats cracking at the right time with Hensley roping a 2-RBI single to give her team the necessary runs. Halie Peterson knocked in Neelee Griffith in the fourth and Rylee Stiltner tacked on an RBI to cushion the lead.
Padgett, Savannah Lafever and Griffith each added a hit for UCHS in the win. Kelsey Duperry had two hits for Johnson County.
The Lady Devils opened this week with a home game against Science Hill after The Erwin Record’s press deadline.
UCHS is scheduled to return to Lady Devil Diamond this week in a Three Rivers contest against Sullivan East on Thursday, March 24, at 5 p.m.
UCHS is scheduled to compete in the annual East Tennessee Classic on Friday, March 25, and Saturday, March 26. A schedule of the tournament was not provided prior to The Erwin Record’s press deadline.