The Unicoi County High School softball team poses for a picture with their District 1-AA tournament plaque. Pictured from left, back row, Halie Hawkins, Kerstin Buchanan, Bella Bogart, Gabby Davis, Kaylia Street, Leah Edney, Caroline Podvin, Samantha Chavez, Jimena Rodriguez, Betsabe Chavez and Hannah Shelton; front row, Abbie Grindstaff, Kaylee Lamb, Cassie Selvage, Chloe Powers, Allee Griffith, Carly Kinsler, Ashtan Vance and Kiley Bennett. (Contributed photo)

By Keeli Parkey

Days after winning another district crown, the Unicoi County High School softball team’s 2019 season came to a disappointing end.

Playing Grainger on Monday, May 13, in the Region 1-AA semifinals, the Lady Devils (35-10) were held to only five hits and left nine runners on base in a 9-4 loss at Lady Devil Diamond in Erwin.

“We didn’t play well and we didn’t hit the ball like we can,” UCHS head coach Grady Lingerfelt said. “They have a really good pitcher and she handcuffed us. We also had a couple of miscues here and there and it ballooned on us.”

Grainger got on the scoreboard first Monday night – scoring one run in the first inning and three in the fourth. The Lady Grizzlies took complete control of the game with a 5-run fifth inning and held a 9-0 lead.

“They got some hits back-to-back,” Lingerfelt said. “They hit a lot of little bloopers that were just out of our reach. We really had an unlucky night. They are a good ball team. They are solid and are well coached. Rusty Bishop is a very good coach.”

The Lady Devils did their best to get back into the game. In the bottom of the sixth, senior Carly Kinsler hit a 2-run double for a 9-2 score, but that was all UCHS could get on the scoreboard that inning.

After holding Grainger scoreless in the top of the seventh, the Lady Devils scored another run thanks to a solo home run by senior pitcher Allee Griffith. They scored their fourth and final run of the game – and the season – when senior Chloe Powers scored on a ground out by Hannah Shelton before the final out of the game.

“The girls kept fighting right until the end, even though we were down 9-0,” Lingerfelt said. “That says a lot about them and our senior leadership.”

Powers had 2 hits in the loss. Halie Hawkins, Griffith (1 RBI) and Kinsler (2 RBIs) each had 1 hit.

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The Lady Devils made it to the district championship round after battling their way out of the losers’ bracket. UCHS fell to East, the tournament’s host team and second seed, on May 6 and had to face Elizabethton on May 7 to keep the season alive.

The Lady Devils made easy work of the Lady Cyclones, winning the game 8-0. Griffith struck out 6 batters.

Kiley Bennett was 3-3 at the plate in the win. Hawkins (2 RBIs) and Powers (1 RBI) each had 2 hits. Cassie Selvage, Samantha Chavez (2 RBIs), Griffith (1 RBI) and Bella Bogart each had 1 hit. Carly Kinsler and Ashtan Vance each had 1 RBI.

“We beat a good Elizabethton team on Tuesday,” Lingerfelt said. “We went into the game with a very positive attitude after a tough loss the night before.”

The win over Elizabethton set up another matchup between UCHS and Sullivan East. To win the district, the Lady Devils had to defeat the Lady Patriots twice on Wednesday, May 8, and that is what they did.

Unfortunately, Lingerfelt was kept away from the field by illness.

“I wasn’t there, but coach Ray Webb and coach Pat Goddard stepped in a did a great job for us,” Lingerfelt said.

In the first game, UCHS survived a seventh-inning rally by East to win 7-5 and force a decisive second game. Griffith had 6 strikeouts in the win. Hawkins, Bogart (1 RBI) and Vance each had 2 hits. Selvage (1 RBI), Powers (1 RBI) and Bennett (3 RBIs) each had 1 hit. Griffith also had an RBI.

In the second game, the Lady Devils left little doubt as to which team would be the district champs.

“We came out in the first inning and got 10 runs,” Lingerfelt said.

UCHS went on to win the game – an another district crown – by a 12-6 score.

Hawkins hit 2 home runs and had 2 RBIs in the game. Chavez (2 RBIs), Griffith (1 RBI), Powers (2 RBIs) and Bogart (1 RBI) each had 2 hits in the win. Bennett (1 RBI) and Vance (2 RBIs) each had 1 hit. Griffith threw 5 strikeouts. 

After the district championship game, it was announced that Lingerfelt was named the Three Rivers Conference Coach of the Year. Hawkins was the league’s Player of the Year and Griffith was the Pitcher of the Year. Named to the All-Conference team were Kiley Bennett, Samantha Chavez, Chloe Powers, Cassie Selvage and Ashtan Vance. Bella Bogart received honorable mention honors.

Also, Hawkins was selected as the District 1-AA tournament MVP. Griffith, Bogart, Bennett and Chavez were named to the all-tournament team.

Lingerfelt said the senior players were key to the Lady Devils’ success this season.

“All of our seniors are quality kids,” he added. “They have worked hard and done a lot for our program.”

While the season didn’t end as he had hoped, Lingerfelt said it was still a success.

“We lost six starters last year and to come back and to win 35 games this year is very good,” he said. “I’m proud of what the girls did this season. I think it was a very successful season. We won 35 games; we just didn’t win the right ones. It was a good year and I was really pleased with our effort.”