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Gillis’ baseball squad bounces back with conference wins

Senior pitcher Clay Simpson threw 11 strikeouts in the Blue Devils’ 10-0 win over Madison County on Monday, April 2. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School baseball team earned an important Three Rivers Conference win and victories over non-conference opponents in the last week.

After falling in extra innings to Sullivan East on March 26 in Erwin, the Blue Devils (8-3, 4-1) avenged that loss with a 9-6 victory on the Patriots’ home field on Tuesday, March 27.

“Raben Reed gets his first varsity win against Sullivan East,” Blue Devil head coach Chad Gillis said. “We had three key starters out for this game, but managed to pull out a big win. It was great to get the win and see these guys respond the way they did. Losing Monday to East really took the wind out of us, but we showed up and did what we had to do to get this win. I am really proud of how we responded on Tuesday.”

Owen Nicholson went 2-3 with 3 RBIs and 1 home run at East. Caleb Wilson was 2-3 at the plate with 1 RBI. LJ Mitchell was 2-3.

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The Blue Devils got another conference victory on the road in Mountain City on Wednesday, March 28, as they defeated Johnson County, 7-6.

“We came out a little flat after a stressful conference game, but pitching pulled us through,” Gillis said. “Keaton dominated on the mound for six innings. We played hard and backed up Keaton defensively. It was good to see him work in an important conference game against a much improved Johnson County team. He has proven to be able to get the job done when needed. ”

Casey threw 7 strikeouts on his way to his second win of the season.

Clay Simpson then closed the game out for UCHS.

“Clay came in to face the top of their lineup and closed the game with three strikeouts,” Gillis said. 

Brett Strother was 2-3 in the win. Raben Reed was 2-4. Wilson was 1-2.

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The Blue Devils suffered their only loss last week at North Buncombe on Thursday, March 29.

Ramon Avila started his first varsity game, but UCHS fell 5-3.

“Ramon did a fantastic job on the mound today,” Gillis said. “He came in and held a very talented team to no runs through four innings. He was relieved by Caleb Crain who also did a great job on the mound. We came out really wanting to get back at these guys after beating us at home. Ramon did everything he could do to hold a talented squad to five runs. I am very proud of what Ramon and Caleb did tonight on the mound. They gave us a chance and that’s all we can ask of them.”

The Blue Devils got off to a good start on the road, but couldn’t hold on for the victory.

“We played well defensively and jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead,” Gillis said. “We haven’t faced pitching like they have yet, but we just couldn’t come up with that big hit when we needed it.  This game will make us better in the long run.”

Hunter Higgins was 3-3 at the plate with 1 RBI.

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Wilson earned his third win of the season with the Blue Devils’ 5-3 over Morristown East in Erwin on Saturday, March 31. The senior pitcher had 9 strikeouts in the game.

“Wilson dominated this game on the mound,” Gillis said. “He has thrown really well so far and he kept us in this game today.”

Against Morristown East, UCHS did well at the plate, but their head coach saw room for improvement.

“I was proud of the way we hit the ball, but we are still making some physical and mental mistakes we have to overcome,” Gillis said. “We are starting to play better defensively, but we will need to start getting more runs across the plate in future games. Morristown East is a talented team and we competed well against them. We had some timely hits out of multiple guys. We also welcomed Troy Podvin and Peyton Whitson back to the lineup, which really helps us offensively.”

Wilson was 2-2 with 2 RBIs in the win. Higgins was 2-3 with 2 RBIs. Nicholson was 1-2.

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Simpson threw 11 strikeouts on his way to his second win of the season during the Blue Devils’ 10-0 victory over Madison County in Erwin on Monday, April 2.

“We had a good game today,” Gillis said. “Simpson shut down their hitters and we gave him some cushion offensively. We had some guys back that have been injured so our lineup was a little different. We are finding that we have multiple kids that can get the job done, so I am trying to keep the lineup fresh. I felt like we hit the ball well and took advantage of their defensive mistakes; we must learn how to consistently make defensive errors hurt.”

Strother was 3-4 at the plate. Podvin was 2-3 on two doubles.

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UCHS went on the road to face Madison County on Tuesday, April 3, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. Upcoming games for the Blue Devils include: Trigg County at Hunter Wright Stadium on Thursday, April 5, at 5:15 p.m.; Caldwell County at Dobyns-Bennett at 4 p.m. and Seymour at Hunter Wright Stadium at 7 p.m. both on Friday, April 6.

The Blue Devils are scheduled to return to Three Rivers Conference play on Monday, April 9, at Happy Valley at 5:30 p.m. They will also face the Warriors in Erwin on Tuesday, April 10, at 6 p.m.