The Unicoi County baseball team’s season, as expected, officially came to an end on May 8 — two days after its district tournament losers’ bracket final against Elizabethton was suspended in the bottom of the seventh inning due to a fight.
The TSSAA considered the programs’ appeals and didn’t reverse any significant decision in terms of resuming the game. Sullivan East, the tournament’s fourth-place finisher, was awarded the district’s other region tournament berth.
The Blue Devils’ catcher, Valentin Batrez, had doubled Alex Green to third base to put the tying runners in scoring position when the fight occurred. Momentum was on the side of the Devils, who’d scored two runs in the bottom of the sixth and had hot-hitting cleanup batter Lucas Slagle and Nicky Satterly due to bat.
Players, coaches and fans can only wonder what might have been.
But some of the players from both teams put a silver lining on a dark cloud a last week when Elizabethton and Unicoi County met in Erwin during the District 1-AAA softball tournament. With tension still high in the proud communities, a handful of players got together for a photo at the softball field.
The players weren’t responding to a suggestion from the respective coaches at Unicoi County and Elizabethton, Chad Gillis and Ryan Presnell.
“It was unprompted and I was actually on the phone with Presnell when he was sent the picture,” Gillis said. “He said, ‘You’re not going to believe what I’m about to send you.’”
It was a picture worth a thousand words, although one seemed largest: closure. Looking at the photograph will help many turn the page.
The Blue Devils had numerous players shine during the district tournament. Tanner Berry might’ve shined as bright as any.
He was 2-for-4 with three RBIs in the losers’ bracket final. He also allowed no earned runs while pitching 3⅔ innings in that game after being used sparingly on the mound all season.
Berry also went 2-for-4 with two doubles and four RBIs in an opening-round loss to Elizabethton and tripled in the losers’ bracket semifinal win against Sullivan East.
And he overcame a variety of ailments to do it.
“We talk about toughness and battling through and knowing the difference between injury and soreness and pain,” Gillis said. “He played on a sore ankle all year and he gets hit on top of the foot pitching (against Elizabethton). And then he’s in the outfield diving and the ball hit him in the forehead.
“But he always kept working. He adjusted his stance late in the season and he was stinging it.”
Brayden Hendrickson also pitched in the final game despite dealing with a painful muscle in his back.
“These dudes left it all on the field,” Gillis said. “That’s what makes all this so frustrating.”
Batrez and Green have both signed to play at Milligan University. Hendrickson signed with Tusculum University. Slagle will play football at Carson-Newman.
Batrez led the team with a .443 average and 17 doubles. He tied Hendrickson for the team lead with six home runs and was second behind Slagle (35) with 32 RBIs. Hendrickson hit .366 and scored a team-high 38 runs.
Chris Chavez batted .319 and led the Devils with 19 stolen bases. Satterly hit .340 with a team-high three triples. Green led the team with 17 walks and tied Batrez for second in runs (30).
Slagle led the team with 56 strikeouts (42⅔ innings). Freshman Kolby Jones struck out 49 in 49⅔ innings while going 5-2 with a 2.56 ERA.