By Curtis Carden
The Unicoi County High School softball team will see a familiar foe this week with a home substate berth on the line.
The Lady Devils used a solid effort from sophomore Halie Padgett in the circle and a momentum-stopping solo home run from Neelee Griffith in the bottom of the sixth inning to pick up a Region 1-AA semifinals victory over Chuckey-Doak High School, 4-2, on Monday, May 16, at Lady Devil Diamond.
With the victory, UCHS will host Elizabethton, who defeated Greeneville, 10-0, on Monday, on Wednesday, May 18, with a start time set for 5 p.m. at home. A win Wednesday gives the Lady Devils home field advantage for Friday, May 20, in substate action; a loss sends the team to the Region 2-AA champions.
Against the Lady Black Knights, things were getting dicey for UCHS (33-14) heading into the bottom of the sixth inning. Chuckey-Doak infielder Keri Ricker came across home plate after a bobble at first base to cut the lead within a run, 3-2, with middle of the Lady Devils’ lineup coming up to bat.
Needing a spark to stop Chuckey-Doak’s momentum, the Lady Devils got one when Griffith hit a blast over the left field fence.
“It was right down the middle,” Griffith said. “It was a money pitch to me, so it was easy to make contact with it and go.”
An insurance run never helps, H. Padgett added with a laugh.
“I pitch a lot better when we’re up,” she said. “That hit really gave us a lot more confidence.”
And the sophomore pitcher did her part in the circle. H. Padgett gave up six hits, two unearned runs, but struck out 10 Black Knights en route to victory.
“Halie threw the ball pretty well today,” Lady Devil head coach Grady Lingerfelt said. “She wasn’t perfect, but she had nice location.”
UCHS got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the first inning, thanks to some small ball, which scored freshman Halie Hawkins and senior Abby Hensley. The Lady Devils added another run in the third inning when left fielder Ashley Edwards sprinted toward home plate after a wild pitch.
Chuckey-Doak added their first run midway through the game after Kelsey Gaby’s RBI hit, but the late inning tactics allowed UCHS to survive.
The Lady Black Knights made their way out of the District 2-AA tournament with an underclassmen heavy team, and their skipper likes what he saw.
“I was very proud of our girls,” C-D head coach Gene Ward said. “They didn’t quit and that’s an important life lesson for them. Give Unicoi County credit. They have a very fine ball team and they’re playing a lot better now than they were in the beginning of the season. We played them earlier and you can see the difference.”
For the Lady Devils, it’s now about preparing for Wednesday’s Region 1-AA championship game against the Lady Cyclones, who the Lady Devils have met five times this season, including two times in last week’s District 1-AA tournament.
“We know what to expect out of them,” Lingerfelt said. “They’re a very good team.”
Griffith led UCHS with two hits Monday. Megan Gray, Tanya Chavez and Rylee Stiltner also added base hits in the victory.
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Extra inning thrills allowed the Lady Devils to earn their home regional semifinal game. Thanks to hustle from Hawkins and a line drive to the outfield, UCHS earned a 3-2 victory over Elizabethton in nine innings on Friday, May 13, to win the District 1-AA tournament held at Sullivan South High School.
With excitement filling the air in Colonial Heights, Hawkins turned on the gas after a hit by Hensley that resulted in the walkoff run.
“I saw the ball hit the bat and the outfielder lay out for it, so I went to third,” Hawkins said with a smile after the game. “Everybody was screaming ‘go’ and I just went with my instincts.”
Hensley, who earned the District 1-AA tourney MVP said the team has peaked at the right time.
“We just had to come out and play as a team with confidence,” Hensley said. “We’ve been coming together as team more near the end of the season.”
Cassi Foster, Chavez and Hensley added two hits in the win. Ashlie Padgett, Hawkins, Stiltner and Edwards each added base hits while H. Padgett got the win in the circle.
Edwards, Foster and H. Padgett were named to the all-tournament team.