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Underclassmen help Devils to wins

New faces are carrying on the old traditions of Unicoi County High School baseball.
Freshman Blue Devil Hunter Higgins roped in the go-ahead RBI in the top of the seventh and senior Sam McInturff provided a 1-2-3 finish in the bottom of the same inning to help the Blue Devils score a 3-2 victory over Daniel Boone on Thursday, March 12, in Washington County.
The Blue Devils (2-0) opened up the regular season and Three Rivers Conference play on Monday, March 9, with an 11-1 victory over Sullivan North in Kingsport.
It was a busy week for Higgins. The freshman saw playing time against the Golden Raiders on Monday and cracked his first high school home run in a 5-4 junior varsity win against Elizabethton on Tuesday, March 10.
While the first two games were important, the victory over Boone will stick with him, Higgins said.
“It was my second varsity game against a lot better team,” he added. “I hadn’t played a lot tonight, but they called me in. I just went up there. I was real nervous, but the coaches calmed me down and told me to not swing at crazy pitches and the pitcher threw me one and I got my hit.”
Daniel Boone pushed the contest to a 2-2 tie heading to the top of the of the seventh inning, but the Blue Devils made noise with a leadoff base hit from shortstop Shaddon Peavyhouse. The Trailblazers were able to record two outs quickly with a hot shot to the second baseman by Dylan Putman, which allowed the Trailblazers to pick up the force out at second of Peavyhouse. Putman was then caught stealing during the next at bat for the second out.
Jacob Lynch and Justin Laughren were able to take bases before Higgins laced a shot to the outfield for the game-winner.
Another freshman coming up big for UCHS last week was Caleb Wilson. Wilson was the winning pitcher of the March 10 underclassmen Elizabethton game and knocked in the first Blue Devil run against Boone.
“Caleb and Hunter both saw time in our game Monday night,” UCHS head coach Chad Gillis said of the freshmen. “Higgins caught well for us and when it was 4-1 Monday, Caleb came up with a big sacrifice-fly to make it 5-1.
“We have a good group of young guys, we’re going to build off them and they’re definitely going to help us this year. Especially with some of the injuries we have, they’re going to fill some gaps we might have.”
UCHS is without sophomore Brandon Garland who sprained his ankle against Sullivan North. He is projected to be out 4-6 weeks but could be back sooner, Gillis added. Will Collins also missed the game against Boone with flu-like symptoms.
McInturff closed out the contest against Boone in two innings of relief, with four strikeouts and a hit. The senior closed out the contest with two of his four strikeouts in the bottom of the final inning.
“It is expected,” Gillis said cracking a smile. “Sam was a great pitcher last year. He had some shoulder trouble, had surgery and fought his way back. He’s worked hard to get back where he was pre-surgery. He’s thrown good in the bullpen all spring. I had a lot of confidence in him. We are watching his pitch count to make sure we keep him strong going forward.”
Will Hubbard received the start against Boone and tossed a no-hitter through four innings. Nathan Derry also saw an inning of relief with good pitches, but some miscues in the infield allowed the Trailblazer to tie things up, 1-1, in the bottom of the fifth.
The seniors like where this team is at now with the underclassmen showing their stuff, McInturff said.
“Wilson and Higgins both got RBIs tonight and they helped big,” he added. “They’ve come up big in the past two games and have helped us out.”
Gabe Thomas added an RBI walk in the top of the sixth to give the Blue Devils a 2-1 lead. Justin Laughren tagged in a base hit.
Peavyhouse, Putman, Lynch and Hubbard also had vital defensive plays in the victory.
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UCHS rode the arm of Garland in his first win of the year and Nick Fender roped in three RBIs to lead in the offensive in the conference victory over the Golden Raiders.
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The Blue Devils had their home-opener on Monday, March 16, against Sullivan South after The Erwin Record’s press deadline.
UCHS will continue their homestand this week with games against David Crockett on Friday, March 20, at 5 p.m. and Sevier County on Saturday at 3 p.m.
The Blue Devils open up next with a tilt against Sullivan East at Baxter Field on Monday, March 23, at 5 p.m.