*Editor’s note: With local schools closed due to coronavirus (COVID-19) concerns, all 2020 spring sports seasons are currently on hold. However, The Erwin Record still wanted to recognize Unicoi County High School teams and players with this annual section.
By Trey Williams
Unicoi County High School softball coach Grady Lingerfelt got his 588th career victory when the Lady Devils evened their season record at 1-1 with a 17-3 win against Sullivan Central on March 12.
It had appeared Lingerfelt’s career would end with 587 wins.
“I tried to quit this year and they wouldn’t let me,” Lingerfelt said with a chuckle. “I resigned for two or three weeks, and the kids started texting me – I got letters – and parents were calling me wanting me to do one more year. So I ended up coming back and taking it for another year.
“So who knows? I still enjoy it. I’ve been doing this for a long, long, long time.”
Lingerfelt, who’s been coaching nearly a half century including time at the youth league level, must replace Allie Griffith and Halie Hawkins from a 35-10 team. Griffith is playing at Milligan College, where Hawkins is now competing in track and field.
“Allie was a big loss,” Lingerfelt said. “Hawkins was the best player in the league last year. Hated to lose her, too. She’s a tough loss.”
Senior Abbie Grindstaff will take the reins on the mound. She pitched three perfect innings, striking out four, in the win at Sullivan Central
“We’re gonna depend on Abbie,” Lingerfelt said. “She’s improved very much so. She’s a good pitcher, pretty strong. She throws it hard and she’s got about three or four pitches. She needs a little more control of her changeup, but she does well. She’ll win some ballgames for us.”
Sophomore Hannah Shelton is the No. 2 pitcher.
Lingerfelt is high on what he said should be a potent lineup. Senior left fielder Kaylia Street will bat leadoff, followed by Grindstaff and junior first baseman Caroline Podvin.
“Abbie’s extremely, extremely fast,” Lingerfelt said. “She’s a good slap hitter and bunts a lot and can beat out a bunt. She hit about .600 this summer and didn’t do anything but bat left-handed.”
Junior second baseman Samantha Chavez will bat cleanup. Senior catcher Bella Bogart, senior third baseman Kiley Bennett and sophomore shortstop Betsabe Chavez started the year batting Nos. 5-7, respectively.
Rounding out the opening-week lineup were senior right fielder Ashtan Vance, junior center fielder Allison Hensley and junior DH-outfielder Leah Edney. Senior Kaylee Lamb will also get plenty of action.
“We’ve got a good player at every position,” Lingerfelt said. “Kiley had a really good batting average last year. Bella hit real well. Samantha hit real well. Caroline hits real well. Ashtan Vance hits real well. And Kaylia Street’s a good leadoff batter.”
The Chavez sisters have a chance to be exceptional. Samantha hit a two-run home run in a season-opening 9-6 loss to Sullivan East. She also had a sacrifice fly and finished with three RBIs.
Samantha followed with five RBIs two days later in the 17-3 win at Sullivan Central. She delivered a double and single and a bases-loaded walk.
Betsabe was 2-for-3 with a stolen base against East.
“Samantha will hit several home runs,” Lingerfelt said. “She’s very strong. Betsabe is probably the slickest fielding shortstop we’ve had in a while.”
Unicoi led Sullivan East 6-5 with two outs in the seventh when the Patriots’ Cayden Bawgus hit a grand slam on a 3-2 pitch. Wet conditions, Lingerfelt said, were a factor in a rally that walks and an error helped fuel.
“We led Sullivan East until the seventh inning,” Lingerfelt said. “Two outs and a 3-2 count we were ahead the girl hit that grand slam. … We played in a muddy mess, and sometimes weather has a lot to do with situations like that.”
The Lady Devil team includes sophomores Jimena Rodriguez, Rachel Hatcher and Kerstin Buchanan and freshmen Cami Peterson, Kendell Hensley, Jala Chandley, Destiny Bridges, Laurel Osborne and Keri Huskins.