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Lady Devils win Eastman Invitational

Four days and 37 teams later, the Lady Blue Devils stood tall on championship day of the 19th annual Eastman Softball Invitational.
Unicoi County High School battled its way through the round of 16 as a 15-seed to capture its seventh Eastman title in a 3-1 victory over Region 1-AA rival Greeneville on Sunday, April 12, at Domtar Park in Kingsport.
“We rallied and just had a good time,” said UCHS senior Tiffany Laughren, who recorded the win in the circle. “Everybody knows that us and Greeneville are really big rivals. There’s a lot of drama and contrast on the field with the emotions, there’s a lot of stuff going on and the defense just rallied up instead of getting down… it was a good win.”
It was a photo finish for the Lady Blue Devils to even qualify for the championship round, finishing third in the pool that featured UCHS, Knox Halls, Greeneville, Tennessee High and Hampton. The ladies (21-2) suffered their first two losses – one to Greeneville and one to Knox Halls – of the season during the tournament’s pool play.
“We were fortunate enough to finish third in our pool,” said Lady Blue Devil head coach Grady Lingerfelt after the contest, “but we made it. Tiffany (Laughren) threw her heart out. We had six hard games this week, starting with Daniel Boone.
“There’s not too much you can say. We’re just playing well and it’s good to see. We’re getting key hits at different times and it is not just from the top of the lineup, it’s all the way through the lineup.”
The Lady Blue Devils struck first in the title game with shortstop Haley Webb ripping a shot through the gap in right field to reach base on a double. UCHS followed up with Laughren and Taylor Wright knocking in back-to-back RBIs. Destinie Hayes and Cassie Foster finished up the five-hit barrage on Greeneville standout Jordan Fortel. The Lady Green Devil ace retired the next three batters, keeping the damage at just two runs heading to the bottom half of the first.
Both teams were held scoreless on their following at-bats, but Greeneville would strike next in the second inning with a two-out shot from Cayla Woods, scoring a run, to cut the deficit to 2-1.
UCHS was able to plate the go-ahead run in the third with Hayes ripping a run-scoring double to provide the final score.
Taylor Smith, Cassie Foster and Ashlie Padgett were able to chip in to the hit column in the victory.
Webb, Neelee Griffith, Cierra Jackson and Wright provided key moments on the defensive side of the ball in the infield to stall any Lady Green Devil rally at the end.
The Lady Blue Devils clinched their bid to the contest after holding back current Big Seven Conference leader, David Crockett, in a 3-2 decision in the semifinals.
Jackson got the ball rolling for UCHS, knocking in an RBI single and later scored on a passed ball. Hannah Keasling also squeezed in a run-scoring walk between Jackson’s work at the dish to take a 3-0 lead early.
David Crockett struck back with a solo-shot from Madison Grindstaff, that was nearly robbed by Keasling’s diving grab that took down the left fence field.
The Lady Pioneers were able to chalk up another score later in the contest, but Laughren was able to keep the Lady Pioneers off track with a mixed pitched selection and tallied six strikeouts in the contest.
Sunday opened the round of eight with UCHS facing off against Three Rivers Conference foe, Happy Valley. The Lady Devils advanced with an 8-5 victory after withstanding the Lady Warrior barrage of runs late.
Blue Nation was able to get underclassmen in on the action against Happy Valley. Halie Padgett recorded a solid performance in the circle, while the likes of Rylee Stiltner, Haley Peterson and Ashley Edwards patrolled the infield. Cassi Foster also received key baserunning time around the diamonds through Sunday’s title stretch.
Giving younger players experience is key going forward, according to Lingerfelt.
“We were able to get some of the younger girls in,” he said. “In a tournament like this, just being part of it with the team is important for experience.”
The Lady Blue Devils used a late four-run stretch in the sixth inning to open Eastman tournament play on Saturday night in a 7-3 win over Walker Valley, the tournament’s second seed.
Wright cracked two home runs, Webb plated a two-run double, while Griffith and Laughren, who recorded the win, also added run-scoring hits.
The Lady Blue Devils went 1-1 in the pool on Saturday with the Greeneville loss and a 14-0 rout over Hampton.
UCHS opened the pool on Friday, April 10, also going 1-1, dropping a 4-1 decision to Knox Halls and defeating Tennessee High 9-0.
Round robin play controlled the evening on Thursday, April 9, with UCHS knocking off David Crockett, 7-5 ,and taking a 7-5 decision due to international tie-breaker rules with an Abby Hensley home run in the final inning to knock off Daniel Boone.
The junior will be on the shelf for likely a week due to a broken finger.
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UCHS opened this week with a home contest against Johnson County on Tuesday, April 14, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline.
The Lady Blue Devils will stay in the friendly confines of Lady Devil Diamond to end the week with conference games against Elizabethton on Wednesday, April 15, and Happy Valley on Thursday, April 16, before ending the week with the annual NFS tournament. The NFS tournament is set to begin on Friday, April 17. Tournament play will last through Saturday.