Lady Devil softball team wins district tournament, ousted in region

The Unicoi County High School softball team poses for a picture with their District 1-AA tournament plaque. Pictured from left, back row, Halie Hawkins, Kerstin Buchanan, Bella Bogart, Gabby Davis, Kaylia Street, Leah Edney, Caroline Podvin, Samantha Chavez, Jimena Rodriguez, Betsabe Chavez and Hannah Shelton; front row, Abbie Grindstaff, Kaylee Lamb, Cassie Selvage, Chloe Powers, Allee Griffith, Carly Kinsler, Ashtan Vance and Kiley Bennett. (Contributed photo)

By Keeli Parkey

Days after winning another district crown, the Unicoi County High School softball team’s 2019 season came to a disappointing end.

Playing Grainger on Monday, May 13, in the Region 1-AA semifinals, the Lady Devils (35-10) were held to only five hits and left nine runners on base in a 9-4 loss at Lady Devil Diamond in Erwin.

“We didn’t play well and we didn’t hit the ball like we can,” UCHS head coach Grady Lingerfelt said. “They have a really good pitcher and she handcuffed us. We also had a couple of miscues here and there and it ballooned on us.”

Grainger got on the scoreboard first Monday night – scoring one run in the first inning and three in the fourth. The Lady Grizzlies took complete control of the game with a 5-run fifth inning and held a 9-0 lead.

“They got some hits back-to-back,” Lingerfelt said. “They hit a lot of little bloopers that were just out of our reach. We really had an unlucky night. They are a good ball team. They are solid and are well coached. Rusty Bishop is a very good coach.”

The Lady Devils did their best to get back into the game. In the bottom of the sixth, senior Carly Kinsler hit a 2-run double for a 9-2 score, but that was all UCHS could get on the scoreboard that inning.

After holding Grainger scoreless in the top of the seventh, the Lady Devils scored another run thanks to a solo home run by senior pitcher Allee Griffith. They scored their fourth and final run of the game – and the season – when senior Chloe Powers scored on a ground out by Hannah Shelton before the final out of the game.

“The girls kept fighting right until the end, even though we were down 9-0,” Lingerfelt said. “That says a lot about them and our senior leadership.”

Powers had 2 hits in the loss. Halie Hawkins, Griffith (1 RBI) and Kinsler (2 RBIs) each had 1 hit.

• • •

The Lady Devils made it to the district championship round after battling their way out of the losers’ bracket. UCHS fell to East, the tournament’s host team and second seed, on May 6 and had to face Elizabethton on May 7 to keep the season alive.

The Lady Devils made easy work of the Lady Cyclones, winning the game 8-0. Griffith struck out 6 batters.

Kiley Bennett was 3-3 at the plate in the win. Hawkins (2 RBIs) and Powers (1 RBI) each had 2 hits. Cassie Selvage, Samantha Chavez (2 RBIs), Griffith (1 RBI) and Bella Bogart each had 1 hit. Carly Kinsler and Ashtan Vance each had 1 RBI.

“We beat a good Elizabethton team on Tuesday,” Lingerfelt said. “We went into the game with a very positive attitude after a tough loss the night before.”

The win over Elizabethton set up another matchup between UCHS and Sullivan East. To win the district, the Lady Devils had to defeat the Lady Patriots twice on Wednesday, May 8, and that is what they did.

Unfortunately, Lingerfelt was kept away from the field by illness.

“I wasn’t there, but coach Ray Webb and coach Pat Goddard stepped in a did a great job for us,” Lingerfelt said.

In the first game, UCHS survived a seventh-inning rally by East to win 7-5 and force a decisive second game. Griffith had 6 strikeouts in the win. Hawkins, Bogart (1 RBI) and Vance each had 2 hits. Selvage (1 RBI), Powers (1 RBI) and Bennett (3 RBIs) each had 1 hit. Griffith also had an RBI.

In the second game, the Lady Devils left little doubt as to which team would be the district champs.

“We came out in the first inning and got 10 runs,” Lingerfelt said.

UCHS went on to win the game – an another district crown – by a 12-6 score.

Hawkins hit 2 home runs and had 2 RBIs in the game. Chavez (2 RBIs), Griffith (1 RBI), Powers (2 RBIs) and Bogart (1 RBI) each had 2 hits in the win. Bennett (1 RBI) and Vance (2 RBIs) each had 1 hit. Griffith threw 5 strikeouts. 

After the district championship game, it was announced that Lingerfelt was named the Three Rivers Conference Coach of the Year. Hawkins was the league’s Player of the Year and Griffith was the Pitcher of the Year. Named to the All-Conference team were Kiley Bennett, Samantha Chavez, Chloe Powers, Cassie Selvage and Ashtan Vance. Bella Bogart received honorable mention honors.

Also, Hawkins was selected as the District 1-AA tournament MVP. Griffith, Bogart, Bennett and Chavez were named to the all-tournament team.

Lingerfelt said the senior players were key to the Lady Devils’ success this season.

“All of our seniors are quality kids,” he added. “They have worked hard and done a lot for our program.”

While the season didn’t end as he had hoped, Lingerfelt said it was still a success.

“We lost six starters last year and to come back and to win 35 games this year is very good,” he said. “I’m proud of what the girls did this season. I think it was a very successful season. We won 35 games; we just didn’t win the right ones. It was a good year and I was really pleased with our effort.”

Walk-off ends Blue Devil baseball season in district tournament

By Keeli Parkey

Playing in the losers’ bracket of the District 1-AA tournament in a do-or-die game, the Unicoi County High School baseball team was eliminated from the postseason by Sullivan East on a walk-off base hit.

“Even though we came out on the losing end of this one, it was one of the most intense games I have ever been a part of,” Blue Devil coach Chad Gillis told The Erwin Record. “Pitcher Peyton Whitson dominated through five innings and we had some guys come through at the plate in big situations. I personally feel as if we execute one or two offensive plays we come out on top in this one.”

The Blue Devils faced the Patriots (16-14) on May 7 at TVA Credit Union Ballpark in Elizabethton and took a 2-0 lead in the second inning. To start that inning, Garrett Manuel reached base on a double and L.J. Mitchell reached on a walk.

“Drew Keasling then knocked both runs in with a single,” Gillis said.

East scored one run in the fourth inning for a 2-1 UCHS lead. The Patriots threatened to score again in the fifth with runners on first and second and only one out.

“Their leadoff guy hits a low line drive to center field where Brett Strother makes a fantastic sliding catch and throws the runner out at second base,” Gillis said. “This was possibly the best play I have seen this season. Brett laid it all on the line to make this play and he came up big for us.”

In the top of the seventh, UCHS took a 3-1 lead on a squeeze bunt by Caleb Crain that scored Kody Lewis from third base.

“At this point, Whitson had 26 pitches left to complete the game,” Gillis said. “A couple of walks and a bunt loads the bases with no outs. Whitson strikes out the number eight hitter, then goes full count on number nine batter before he hits 120 pitches.”

Gillis then brought in Kaleb Metcalf to pitch for the Blue Devils.

“He comes in with a full count and he throws a strike to get a fly ball to shallow left field,” Gillis said.

Metcalf then had two strikes on Perry Casaday, East’s leadoff batter, with two outs. With the season on the line for both teams, Casaday hit a line drive in the gap that reached the wall and scored three runs, giving the Patriots the 4-3 victory and ending the Blue Devils’ season.

“I was very proud of the way we battled this game,” Gillis said. “I thought everyone left it on the field and we just ended up on the losing end in this one.” 

Whitson (4-4) took the loss for UCHS. He gave up 4 runs on 4 hits and had 10 strikeouts.

Keasling was 3-3 at the plate for the Blue Devils. Ramon Avila, Crain, Manuel and Metcalf each had 1 hit.

East lost to Sullivan South (20-11) in their next game and were eliminated from the postseason. Elizabethton (25-7) went on to defeat South to win the District 1-AA tournament.

Strother was named to the District All-Tournament team. Keasling and Crain received Three Rivers All-Conference honors.

• • •

The Blue Devils ended the 2019 season with a 12-19 record.

“It was a tough season both on and off the field,” Gillis said. “Baseball-wise, I feel like we battled the entire season and we never gave up in any situation. I think we have some younger guys who got a lot of playing time and learned a lot of lessons throughout the season.

“Our seniors kept everyone working and were excited to play, especially once we entered the tournament. They just kept grinding and working until the very end and that’s all you can ask for. We were also faced with some situations that helped us grow as a team. I saw a group of guys learn how to deal with adversity and support each other in tough times. I think some life lessons were learned here.”

Gillis said one of the highlights of the season was a win over a tough 3A team.

“Beating a very good Daniel Boone team was probably our biggest win,” he said. “We played well against some other 3A teams and our pitchers got some quality innings against some really good teams. L.J. Mitchell’s home run against Cherokee was a positive swing for us and it couldn’t have happened to a better kid. Whitson’s performances on the mound were great all year.”

The 2019 season could prove to be a very important learning experience for players who will return next season.

“We had multiple underclassmen get quality innings this season,” Gillis said. “I think Jordan Bridges and Kaleb Metcalf will be fully prepared for their junior season after getting so much playing time this year. I hope they learned how to grind it out even when things aren’t going your way. Gaining a better understanding of the level of play it takes to win in our conference will also be a key to our success next season. Hopefully, these guys take the lessons learned in 2019 and pass them on to the upcoming freshmen.”

Blue Devil baseball team defeats Johnson County, Happy Valley in district

Jordan Bridges was the winning pitcher for UCHS against Johnson County in the District 1-AA tournament. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The 2019 District 1-AA tournament started off on a high note for the Unicoi County High School baseball team.

The Blue Devils (12-18) went into the tournament as the fifth seed and faced fourth seed Johnson County (12-10) on Saturday, May 4, at Milligan College. Head coach Chad Gillis saw his team jump on the Longhorns early in the game and never let up.

“I thought we played well today,” Gillis said.

The Blue Devils held a 5-0 lead before Johnson County put two runs on the scoreboard. UCHS then added two more runs and held on for a 7-2 victory.

Key to the win was the pitching performance of sophomore Jordan Bridges, according to Gillis. Bridges had 6 strikeouts and gave up 2 runs on 8 hits.

“Jordan earned his second win, this one being his biggest, against a good hitting and motivated Johnson County team,” Gillis said. “He really kept them off balance the entire game and our defense backed him up flawlessly.”

The approach by the Blue Devils at the plate was another key to the game.

“We faced a pitcher who has given everybody in the conference trouble, but we made some adjustments at the plate and got the big part of the bat to the ball a couple of times,” Gillis said.

Brett Strother was 3-4 in the win. L.J. Mitchel was 2-4. Ramon Avila, Peyton Whitson, Garrett Manuel and Bridges each had 1 hit.

Awaiting the Blue Devils in the tournament’s winner’s bracket semifinal was Elizabethton, the number one seed, on Sunday, May 5, at TVA Credit Union Ballpark in Elizabethton.

Behind the pitching performance of Evan Carter, the Cyclones (22-7) defeated the Blue Devils 6-0.

“He has been dominant all year,” Gillis said of Carter. “I did like our aggressiveness tonight against him. We put the ball in play a lot more than the first time we faced him. Multiple guys in the lineup made them make plays to get us out.”

On the mound for UCHS against ‘Betsy was freshman Bryson Peterson. In his first varsity start, he gave up 6 runs on 8 hits and had 1 strikeout.

“I was really impressed with the outing from Bryson tonight,” Gillis said. “He had made some varsity relief appearances early in the season, but I thought he did well on the big stage. He held one of the hottest teams in the area to 6 runs and threw the entire game. I really liked how he approached the game and how he fought through some tough situations and made big pitches.”

The loss on Sunday sent UCHS to a do-or-die game in the losers’ bracket on Monday, May 6, against Happy Valley (9-18). The Blue Devils did what they had to do to keep their season alive.

“I thought we played well tonight,” Gillis said. “We were excited to be at the field competing.”

Avila took to the mound for UCHS on Monday.

“Ramon set the tone on the mound after giving up 1 run in the first inning,” Gillis said. “He later gets out of a jam in the second and third innings then he seems to cruise. We made some plays defensively to help. Caleb Crain made a great diving catch in the outfield to rob a base hit.”

Offensively, the Blue Devils were able to get runners on base and across the plate. Both Whitson and Strother had triples with runners on base. Manuel hit a line drive off the left field wall for an RBI.   

UCHS won the game 8-1.

Avila earned the win, his third of the season. He gave up 1 run on 6 hits and had 5 strikeouts.

Whitson, Strother, Manuel, Bridges and Avila each had 1 hit.

The Blue Devils were scheduled to face Sullivan East (15-13) on Tuesday, May 7, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. It is a do-or-die game for both teams. East lost to Sullivan South (19-9) 6-5 on Monday.

If they defeat East, the Blue Devils will play on Wednesday, May 8, at 5 p.m. against the loser of Tuesday’s game between Elizabethton and Sullivan South. The games are being played at TVA Credit Union Ballpark.

Lady Devil softball team defeats Elizabethton, falls to East in district

By Keeli Parkey

Thanks to an undefeated league record, the Unicoi County High School softball team went into the District 1-AA tournament as the number one seed and opened postseason play on Friday, May 3, against Elizabethton (9-16) at Sullivan East.

The Lady Devils (32-9) got going early in this game, scoring 2 runs in the first and 3 in the second to take a commanding 5-0 lead.

“We played very well,” UCHS head coach Grady Lingerfelt told The Erwin Record. “It was a good ballgame.”

Pitcher Allee Griffith helped her own cause in the bottom of the first with a 2-run home run that also scored Chloe Powers. Carly Kinsler and Halie Hawkins each hit home runs in the second inning. Hawkins’ was a 2-run shot that also scored Kiley Bennett. UCHS added another run in the third and another in the fourth before sealing the mercy-rule victory with 3 runs in the fifth inning.

Griffith gave up only 2 hits and had 5 strikeouts in the shutout victory. She also had 2 hits and 2 RBIs.

“All pitched very well,” Lingerfelt said. “We also hit the ball very well. We played a very good game.”

Kinsler also had 2 hits and 1 RBI. Hawkins (2 RBIs), Cassie Selvage (1 RBI), Samantha Chavez, Ashtan Vance (1 RBI), Bella Bogart and Bennett (1 RBI) each had 1 hit.

The victory over Elizabethton sent the Lady Devils to the next round where they faced Sullivan East (26-13), the tournament’s number two seed and preseason pick to win the league, on Monday, May 6. In the two previous meetings between the teams, the Lady Devils dominated, winning both by 11 runs.

That would not be the case on Monday as the Lady Patriots hit four home runs – two by Katelyn Loudy and one each by Chelsea Sams and Kylee Wolfe – en route to a 13-1 victory.

“It was one of those nights you want to forget about,” Lingerfelt said. “To East’s credit, they are a very good softball team. They hit the ball very well.”

East took control of the game in the top of the second inning when Loudy hit a grand slam to left field. The Lady Patriots added two more runs in that inning to take a 6-0 lead.

The Lady Devils got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fourth when Chavez stole home.

UCHS threatened to score again in the bottom of the fifth, having bases loaded, but could not get a timely hit. UCHS left 10 runners on base in the game.

East added two runs in the sixth and five in the seventh for the final score of 13-1.

The Lady Devils had only 6 hits in the game. Hawkins had 2. Selvage, Chavez, Bogart and Bennett each had 1.

Lingerfelt said he believes his team can bounce back from the loss to East.

“That’s just one game,” he said.

Monday’s loss sent UCHS to the losers’ bracket where they faced either Sullivan South or Elizabethton on Tuesday after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. A loss ended the Lady Devils’ season. A victory qualified the Lady Devils for the region tournament and set up another matchup with East on Wednesday, May 8, at 5:30 p.m.

UCHS can still win the district championship, but they will have to defeat East twice to do so. Should the Lady Devils defeat East in the 5:30 p.m. game on Wednesday, the second game will be played at 7 p.m.

Lady Devil softball team wins regular season conference title

Samantha Chavez puts the bat on the ball against Sullivan East on April 23. The sophomore’s 5 RBIs in the game helped lift the Lady Devils to the conference-clinching victory. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

Another season. Another conference crown.

The Unicoi County High School softball team clinched the Three Rivers Conference title last week with a 12-1 victory over Sullivan East on Tuesday, April 23, in Erwin.

Going into the game, the Lady Devils (30-8, 11-0) held a one-game lead over the Lady Patriots – having defeated them earlier this season in Bluff City.

“It is going to be a tough game,” UCHS head coach Grady Lingerfelt told The Erwin Record before Tuesday’s showdown.

The game was scoreless until the bottom of the third inning when Kiley Bennett scored on an RBI-single by Halie Hawkins to put the Lady Devils up 1-0. UCHS added another run in the bottom of the fourth when Samantha Chavez scored on an RBI-double by Ashtan Vance.

UCHS took complete control of the game in the bottom of the fifth – scoring 6 runs, including a 2-run home run by Chavez, for an 8-0 lead. Cassie Selvage, Allee Griffith and Hawkins all had RBIs in the crucial inning.

The Lady Patriots managed to score one run in the top of the sixth inning before Chavez’s 3-run home run put the game away for UCHS.

“We played well; it was a very good win,” Lingerfelt said. “Allee pitched well for us and Samantha has been hitting the ball very well.”

East was the preseason pick to win the league, but the Lady Devils had other ideas.

“We played some of our best games against East,” Lingerfelt said. “They have a very talented group of players.”

Griffith had 8 strikeouts in the win. UCHS had 12 hits at the plate. Chavez led the way with 3, including 2 home runs and 5 RBIs. Hawkins had 2 hits and 2 RBIs. Vance had 2 hits and 1 RBI. Selvage (1 RBI), Chloe Powers, Griffith (2 RBIs), Carly Kinsler and Bennett each had 1 hit.

The Lady Devils completed their clean sweep of conference opponents with a 6-2 victory at Elizabethton on Monday, April 29.

UCHS held a 3-1 lead for much of the game before scoring 3 important runs in the top of the seventh and final inning. Kinsler’s double first scored Leah Edney; then Chavez scored on a single by Vance for a 5-1 lead. Vance then scored on a double by Hawkins for a 6-1 lead.

Elizabethton tried to rally during the final at-bat, scoring one run, but the Lady Devils held them at bay.

Griffith earned the win in the circle at ‘Betsy on Monday. She had 3 hits, including a home run, and 1 RBI. Hawkins had 2 hits, including a home run, and 2 RBIs. Chavez, Kinsler (1 RBI), Bella Bogart and Bennett (1 RBI) each had 2 hits. Vance had 1 hit and 1 RBI.

The Three Rivers Conference standings are as follows: UCHS in first place at 11-0; Sullivan East in second place at 10-2; Sullivan South in third place at 8-4; Elizabethton in fifth place at 3-5; Johnson County in sixth place at 2-8; and Sullivan Central in seventh place at 1-8.

The Lady Devils will open the District 1-AA tournament on Friday, May 3, at 6:30 p.m. at Sullivan East. Their opponent will be determined later this week. The tournament will continue next week.

• • •

The Lady Devils played in annual Tiny Day Classic in Greeneville from Thursday, April 25, through Sunday, April 28.

They went 3-1 in pool play, defeating Cloudland, 10-1; South Greene, 9-2; and North Greene, 9-0. Their only loss in pool play came at the hands of David Crockett on Friday. In that game, UCHS trailed 4-1 going into the final inning. The Lady Devils scored two runs, thanks to a 2-RBI double by Powers, but they could not get another run across the plate. Crockett won the game 4-3.

Despite the one loss in pool play, the Lady Devils qualified for the tournament’s gold bracket with Crockett, Morristown East, Greeneville and Grainger, Lingerfelt said. They faced Greeneville in the first round of tournament play on Sunday and lost in a nailbiter.

Greeneville to a 1-0 in the bottom of the second inning, but the Lady Devils responded in the top half of the third when Vance scored on an error by the shortstop. Each team was held scoreless until the bottom of the final inning when Greeneville scored on a sacrifice-fly to win the game 2-1. The loss eliminated the Lady Devils from the tournament.

Bennett had 2 hits in the game. Hawkins, Powers and Chavez each had 1 hit.

“I thought we played pretty well,” Lingerfelt said of the Tiny Day. “Close games help you get better and playing good teams will make you better.”

Blue Devils wrap up regular season

L.J. Mitchell fields a ground ball at third base. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

Another regular season is almost in the books for the Unicoi County High School baseball team.

The Blue Devils (10-16, 5-7) played their last Three Rivers Conference series of the season against the Johnson County Longhorns on Tuesday, April 23, and Wednesday, April 24.

Playing in Erwin on Tuesday, the Longhorns broke open a scoreless game with a couple of timely hits in the top of the fourth inning. Compiling the problems for the Blue Devils were a couple of walks and errors.

The Blue Devils managed to put one run across the plate in the bottom of the fourth inning, but that would be their only score of the game and Johnson County won 5-1.

Peyton Whitson (4-3) took the loss on the mound, giving up 5 runs on 6 hits and striking out 9.

“I thought Peyton did well outside of the fourth inning,” Blue Devil head coach Chad Gillis said.

Brett Strother was 2-4. Jordan Bridges, Whitson, Drew Keasling and L.J. Mitchell each had 1 hit.

The next day, the Longhorns bested the Blue Devils again, this time by the score of 11-5.

“We started out the game by capitalizing on their mistakes, scoring 3 in the second inning,” Gillis said. “They put together some hits in the bottom of the second to go up 4-3. We made a mental mistake to extend an inning where they ended up scoring 4 more runs.”

Metcalf took the loss on the mound. Ramon Avila, Whitson, Metcalf and Garrett Manuel had 1 hit each.

The Blue Devils finished the conference schedule in fifth place with a record of 5-7. The conference standings ended as follows: Elizabethton in first place at 12-0; Sullivan South in second at 9-3; Sullivan East in third at 8-4; Johnson County in fourth at 5-6; UCHS fifth at 5-7; Happy Valley in sixth at 1-10; and Sullivan Central in seventh at 1-11.

The District 1-AA tournament begins this week. The Blue Devils will face Johnson County on Friday, May 3, at Elizabethton Twins Field beginning at 7:30 p.m.

• • •

One of the final games of the regular season for the Blue Devils was a 3-0 non-conference loss at Dobyns-Bennett on Monday, April 29.

Metcalf took the loss on the mound, but pitched well, according to his head coach.

“Kaleb did well on the mound to hold DB to 3 runs,” Gillis said. “He gives a chance when he is on the mound.”

Unfortunately, the Blue Devils couldn’t get anything going offensively.

“We faced some Division 1 arms that we really haven’t seen this year and they put us down quick,” Gillis said. “We got some guys on base, but just couldn’t get them across the plate.”

The Blue Devils were scheduled to wrap up the regular season on Tuesday, April 30, at Science Hill.

Coach: Track athletes having successful season

The 2019 Unicoi County High School Lady Devil track team includes, pictured from left, back row, assistant coach Cameron Higgins, assistant coach Samuel Bratton, head coach Thad Higgins and assistant coach Bettina Chirica; middle row, Mirand Avila, Kayla Hicks, Halie Hawkins, Iliana Martinez-Lopez, Natalia Mendoza; front row, Cheyenne Wilson, Clarita Ozuna, Rachel Altemose and Cynthia Mendoza. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

The 2019 Unicoi County High School Blue Devil track team includes, pictured from left, back row, assistant coach Cameron Higgins, assistant coach Samuel Bratton, head coach Thad Higgins and assistant coach Bettina Chirica; middle row, Nathan Lincoln, Adam Lewis and Phoenix Holt; front row, Wyatt Miller, John Campbell, Danny Lowery and Kenneth Perciful. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School track and field program has had another successful season, according to first-year head coach Thad Higgins.

The Blue Devils and Lady Devils have competed at the following meets: at Science Hill on March 18; at Volunteer on March 26; at North Buncombe on March 27; at Science Hill on April 2; at Science Hill for the Tri-Cities Classic on April 6; at the DB Texas Roadhouse Relays on April 13; and the sectional pentathlon on April 22 (only Lady Devils Halie Hawkins and Kayla Hicks competed at this meet).

“It’s incredible that we have had the amount of success that we’ve had this season,” Higgins recently told The Erwin Record. “We compete against schools that are much larger than ours, with track teams that have many more people than we do, and yet our athletes continue to place high in our meets.”

Those results include:

• John Campbell – first and second place in the 800-meter;

• Wyatt Miller – second place in the 800-meter;

• Halie Hawkins – first place in the pole vault and shot put; second place in the pole vault, shot put and discus; and third place in the pole vault;

• Natalia Mendoza – second and third place in discus;

• Kayla Hicks – first place in the 400-meter; and third place in discus;

• Cheyenne Wilson – first place in 800-meter and second place in 1600-meter;

• Rachel Altemose – second place in long jump.

“We have a much smaller guys team this year, but that hasn’t stopped them from competing at a high level,” Higgins said. “Wyatt Miller ran distance last year and cross country this past fall, but he’s stepped up and begun to pole vault. I’m very excited to see what he can do in that event over the next couple years. Likewise, we have some new faces that have stepped up and gotten out of their comfort zone. Nathan Lincoln has run wherever we’ve asked him to and has been dancing back and forth between sprinting events and mid-distance. Phoenix Holt is another one that we’ve had try almost every event. John Campbell is still running really well in the 800-meter and has even had some top finishes this season.”

The Lady Devils have also had success this season, according to their head coach.

“Our competition record really attests to the fact that our girls have been successful this season,” Higgins said. “We’ve had top finishers on the girls’ side from almost every meet this season. We’ve also already had three girls qualify for the sectional.”

Having two athletes compete in the girls’ pentathlon on April 22 was a highlight of the season.

“The girls’ pentathlon was a really fun event to get to go to this year,” Higgins said. “We don’t always have athletes who are diversified enough to compete in the event. It says a lot about the caliber of athletes we have competing this year that we took not one, but two girls – Halie and Kayla – to the sectional pentathlon.”

Throwers for both the Blue Devils and Lady Devils have had success this season, as well.

“Our throwers have also been working incredibly hard this season,” Higgins said. “They spend a lot of time separated from the rest of the team because of their event, but in spite of this, they’ve done a great job of coaching and supporting each other. Natalia Mendoza is our senior thrower and she’s done a great job of being a leader and setting a standard for a high work ethic. Kenny Perciful has even already qualified for the sectional meet.”

• • •

The teams also competed in the conference meet held at Dobyns-Bennett on Friday, April 26. They were scheduled to compete at Science Hill on Tuesday, April 30, and at the invitation-only DB Ballad Health/Tri-Cities Sports meet on Friday, May 3.

“Our athletes have been working really hard this season and I don’t expect that to stop,” Higgins said. “As we’re nearing the end of the season I believe that we’ll see even more athletes qualify for the sectional meet.

“Unfortunately, athletes don’t get to progress to the postseason if they don’t meet certain qualifying standards for each event. If they meet these standards then they can progress to the sectional meet. I’d like to take as many as possible to the sectional meet so that our athletes have a chance to qualify for the state championships.”

Locals run in Boston Marathon

Jeff King (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

Each year, approximately 30,000 runners travel to Massachusetts for the Boston Marathon. Among that group this year were two runners from Unicoi County – Jeff King and Jennifer Norris.

King, a Unicoi County native and assistant coach for the Unicoi County High School girls’ basketball team, decided to start running a few years ago.

“About 7 years ago, when my oldest daughter Riley was a senior in high school they had held a 5K to raise money for cancer, and I thought that was a good cause so I ran it,” King said. “I thought I was going to pass out before I could get to the finish line, and my time was around 30 minutes. I remember thinking I was so out of shape.”

According to King, he would try to run one more race to force himself to run a little more and to try to get in better shape.

“So about three months later I scheduled another 5K race and I continued to train until the race. I finished 3 minutes faster than the first 5K and I was hooked.

Green, who is a Spanish teacher at UCHS, had a similar path to Boston.

“I would watch the Boston Marathon every year and I always wanted to go, and I realized the only thing stopping me was myself, because I never thought I could be fast enough to qualify,” Green said. “After watching the race in 2017, I found a qualifying race in Cary, North Carolina, and I worked so hard to train for that marathon. I qualified for Boston at the Tobacco Road Marathon in 2018.”

For Green the qualifier changed her life.

“That was a defining moment for me, both mentally and physically,” Green said.

To prepare for the Boston Marathon King and Green had to put in serious training hours.

“For this marathon I typically ran between 60-70 miles a week,” King said. “John Hensley, my training partner, and I ran six days a week and usually on Saturday we do a pace run of 20-24 miles. We typically do a track day on Wednesday and rest of the days we just run 6-10 miles at a comfortable pace.”

Green put in a similar training schedule.

“I am a teacher and a doctoral student at ETSU, and I have two young boys; so in order to get my training runs completed and not miss their activities, I always ran in the morning before school,” Green said. “There were many, many 4 a.m. treadmill runs.”

The two finished the Boston Marathon in very humid conditions. King ran a 3:13:19, with a 7-minute, 22-second pace per mile.

“We had a big storm blow through that morning and the humidity was pretty bad, but I was still happy with my time,” King said. “My quads were cramping pretty bad at the finish.”

For Green, the event was about finishing her first Boston Marathon, not about the time.

“It was a hard day, but I put my head down and made it to the finish line,” Green said. “My ultimate goal in going to the Boston Marathon was to finish, so I am proud of that – regardless of the time.”

The experience was a once-in-a-lifetime event for the two runners.

“Boston is unlike any marathon or race I have ever been in,” King said. “It’s like running in a sea of people, but everybody was friendly and I really enjoyed the experience.”

Green’s experience was memorable as well.

“It was humbling and hard, but amazing. I boarded the bus to the starting line that morning soaked from thunderstorms; it was dumping water on my head as the temperatures reached the upper 70s during the race, and I dealt with some excruciating leg cramps during the last mile of the race,” Green said. “You cannot complete 26.2 miles without a fight, and I fought that entire race.”

King plans on returning in 2020.

“My time did qualify me for next year’s Boston Marathon,” King said. “John (Hensley) just qualified for Boston at the Knoxville Marathon so I plan on running it again with him.”

Green plans on taking a break before talking about the Boston Marathon again.

“I do not anticipate returning to Boston right away; however, I love the marathon and would like to plan a fall marathon, as well as a few half marathons,” Green said. “I am enjoying this rest time right now.”

The two runners said they enjoyed their time in Boston.

“My wife Kerri and I really enjoyed the city. There is so much history,” King said. “We toured the Freedom Trail and visited several historical sites.”

For Green the experience at the marathon was overwhelming.

“The crowds were unreal, and the streets were lined the entire 26.2 miles,” Green said. “I had never experienced crowds like this before when running a race and as soon as I crossed the finish line, I was in tears.”

Green felt all the hard work pay off as she finished the marathon.

“I had poured so much work and sacrifice into that race, crossing the finish line was overwhelming,” said.

King and Green had advice for runners who are currently training.

“I would encourage anyone thinking of running to give it a try,” King said. “My rule of thumb is that most of your training needs to be at 60 percent of your max level,” King said. “If you can’t talk you’re probably running too fast, slow down and enjoy the run.”

Green added that the marathon is achievable, and it takes hard work, but it is worth it.

“It is worth every early morning and every training run,” Green said. “The strength you gain in training for a marathon is so much more than physical.”

The two runners admitted that it takes a team to prepare a runner to compete.

“My wife has been my biggest supporter,” King said. “She is the one who I wake up at 4 a.m. when I’m doing a morning run and she goes to most of my races to support me, and sometimes she will run a 5K with me,” King said. “Both my daughters Rilie and Kenedy always brag me up, and I appreciate John running with me. We have run in 6 inches of snow, 15-20 degrees days and wind/rain. No matter the conditions he is always ready to go.”

For Green, her support system came from those closest to her.

“I could not have made it to Boston without the support and encouragement of my family, friends and everyone at Unicoi County High School,” Green said.

Blue Devil soccer team falls to South, defeats Cocke County

Daniel Raygosa chases down possession of the ball against Cocke County on April 11. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

Mistakes cost the Unicoi County High School boys soccer team in conference play last week.

Playing at Sullivan South, the Blue Devils (5-3, 2-2) fell 3-1 in a game they needed to win to improve their league standings.

“Honestly, we gave the game away with some crucial errors,” UCHS head coach Justin Ciralsky said. “We were not focused mentally. South’s team capitalized on a couple of our mistakes for two goals in the first half and then they scored a great free kick for the third.”

There were some bright spots in Kingsport last week.

“We dominated possession for the entire game, but in the second half we started playing much better,” Ciralsky said. “We scored an amazing whole team goal, and unfortunately we hit the post a few times. We weren’t able to play our game and we lost a very costly important game.”

Daniel Meza put the ball in the net for UCHS at South.

• • •

The Blue Devils rebounded from the loss to claim a 6-1 victory over Cocke County on Thursday, April 11, in Erwin.

“The game against Cocke County was much better,” Ciralsky said. “They moved the ball well and played with more heart and focus. The JV boys played much of the game and did well.”

Scoring for the Blue Devils in this game was Armando Saldana, Martin Porras and Matt Hensley.

Ciralsky said his team needs to keep focused as the postseason approaches.

“If we don’t play with heart and focus on doing the little things well, than we won’t be successful during the remainder of the season,” he added. “If we can come together and play our game, then I think we have the possibility of making it through the regional tournament. We will see; it’s up to the players.”

• • •

The Blue Devils hosted Elizabethton on Tuesday, April 16, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. That was another game the team needed to win to stay near the top of the league standings.

“We needed to win the South game to secure second or third going into the tournament and because of the loss we must beat a strong Elizabethton team for a chance at second or third,” Ciralsky said.

They are also scheduled to host Chuckey-Doak on Thursday, April 18, at 6 p.m.

Blue Devil baseball team wins 3 consecutive games

Garrett Manuel makes contact at the plate against Mt. Heritage on April 11. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School baseball team earned three victories last week, including two important Three Rivers Conference wins.

On Wednesday, April 10, the Blue Devils (10-11, 5-4) traveled to Sullivan Central (1-13, 1-9) for a conference doubleheader with the Cougars. Head coach Chad Gillis’ team won the first game, 11-3.

“This was a good win coming off a tough weekend,” Gillis told The Erwin Record.

The Blue Devils started the game slowly, but came alive late in the game.

“We came out with a lack of enthusiasm, but put it together in the end to get a good conference win,” Gillis said. “We ended the night with nine hits, most coming late in the game. It was good to see us putting up some crooked numbers in this one.”

Keaton Casey (3-2) was the winning pitcher for UCHS. The senior allowed 4 hits and struck out 6. Kaleb Metcalf came on in relief and closed out the game.

Peyton Whitson (2-4 with 2 RBIs) and Brett Strother (2 hits, including a home run, and 5 RBIs) led the way at the plate.

Caleb Crain, Drew Keasling, Ramon Avila and Metcalf each had 1 hit.

In the second tilt of the evening, Whitson (4-1) turned in a commanding performance on the mound – throwing a complete game with 16 strikeouts – and led the Blue Devils to a 6-1 win.

“We came out with a little more energy in the second game,” Gillis said. “Peyton gave us another dominating performance on the mound and just went after their hitters. Peyton has been very successful this year and gives us a chance every time he gets on the mound. He fills the zone up and keeps the defense on their toes. Peyton deserves his success because he earned it in the offseason. We just seem to play better when he is on the mound.”

The UCHS defense backed up Whitson, as well.

“Defensively, we made the routine plays to get us in and out quickly most innings and that was good to see,” Gillis said.

Whitson had 2 hits and 2 RBIs in the victory. Crain also had 2 hits. Casey, Strother, Keasling and Metcalf each had 1 hit.

• • •

The Blue Devils took an early lead and held on for an 11-4 victory over Mt. Heritage (North Carolina) on Thursday, April 11, at Baxter Field in Erwin.

“We scored seven runs in the first two innings, but gave up three in the second inning,” Gillis said. “We were getting guys on base with walks and getting timely hits by multiple kids throughout the lineup. This was a slow game with a lot of walks and freebies all around. I felt like we may have lost some intensity late in the game, but we got the win.”

Avila (2-0) was the winning pitcher for the Blue Devils. He threw 6 innings and had 3 strikeouts. Crain pitched an inning in relief.

“Ramon didn’t have his best stuff today, but he found a way to make it work,” Gillis said.

Casey, Crain, Strother, Keasling, Metcalf, Avila and L.J. Mitchell each had 1 hit.

• • •

The Blue Devils won a nailbiter at Cherokee (9-11) on Saturday, April 13.

“This was a very quick game because both teams really struggled to hit the opposing pitchers,” Gillis said.

Sophomore Jordan Bridges was on the mound for UCHS and earned his first varsity win.   

“Jordan started for us today and did a tremendous job,” Gillis said. “He really kept them off balance and continuously got fly ball/ground ball outs. Jordan has really improved the last two weeks. He has given us a chance to win in the last two games he has started.”

The Blue Devil defense also turned in another solid outing.

“Defensively, we didn’t have any errors and made every play in this game,” Gillis said.

While things were going well defensively, the Blue Devil offense couldn’t get anything going.

“We had a couple of chances to score midway through the game, but we just couldn’t get that timely hit,” Gillis said.

In the end, it was Mitchell who came through.

“In the top of the seventh inning, L.J. hit an eventual game-winning solo home run,” Gillis said. “I was really excited that L.J. had that big hit to put us up. That was his first home run for the season and it was a big one.”

The Blue Devils won the non-conference game 1-0.

Bridges gave up two hits and no runs with 4 strikeouts in the win. He also had 1 hit. Casey, Crain, Whitson, Avila and Mitchell all had 1 hit.

• • •

The Blue Devils traveled to Elizabethton for a conference game on Monday, April 15, and hosted Elizabethton on Tuesday, April 16, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue.

They are scheduled to host Wolcott High School at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 18, and Jefferson County on Saturday, April 20, at 1 p.m. The Blue Devils will return to conference play when they travel to Johnson County on Monday, April 22, at 5 p.m. and play host to Johnson County on Tuesday, April 23, at 5 p.m.

Blue Devil baseball team bests Happy Valley, plays in Tribe Classic

Caleb Crain makes a throw to first base. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School baseball team opened last week with a Three Rivers Conference victory, then battled AAA teams in a local tournament.

Playing at home on Tuesday, April 2, the Blue Devils (6-10, 3-3) relied on their offense to defeat conference foe Happy Valley (5-10, 1-7) by a score of 11-6.

“Any conference win is a good win, but we gave them too many chances in this one,” UCHS head coach Chad Gillis said. “We gave up too many walks and hit batters. Luckily, we provided enough offense to pull it out.”

A four-run inning led by Blue Devils Drew Keasling, L.J. Mitchell and Ramon Avila gave UCHS a 4-3 lead. UCHS added two more runs on a two-out hit by Peyton Whitson.

“We held them scoreless in the third and scored three more runs with Keasling starting off the inning again,” Gillis said. “I was proud of the way Casey, Caleb Crain, Drew, L.J., Ramon and Jordan Brigdes played offensively. These guys were on it tonight and carried us with their bats. We are still making mistakes that we shouldn’t be making at this point in the season, but we are improving with every game we play.”

Casey (2-2) was the winning pitcher for the Blue Devils against Happy Valley. He gave up 4 hits, 5 runs and had 6 strikeouts. Avila came on in relief for two innings giving up one run and had 4 strikeouts.

Casey was 2-3 with 3 RBIs in the win. Crain was 3-4 with 3 RBIs. Keasling was 2-2. Mitchell was 3-3 with 3 runs scored. Avila was 2-4.

• • •

From Thursday, April 4, through Saturday, April 6, the Blue Devils competed in the Tribe Classic hosted by Dobyns-Bennett.

Up first for UCHS was Science Hill (10-7) in Johnson City on Thursday. Unable to get hits when they needed them, the Blue Devils fell to the Hilltoppers, 6-1.

“There are a lot of positives to pull from this loss,” Gillis said. “First, Kaleb Metcalf is proving to be consistent on the mound with his performances. The score does not do his outing justice.  Kaleb kept them off balance and frustrated most of the night. One kid really had Kaleb’s number tonight and he had 4 of their 6 RBIs.

“I thought Kaleb did a great job, along with our defense,” Gillis continued. “We had guys diving all over the field and wanting to make plays defensively. We had opportunities to score in both the first and second innings, but couldn’t get that big hit when we needed it. I’m proud of how we played and we are getting better with every game.”

Metcalf took the loss for the Blue Devils. He also went 1-3 at the plate.

Casey was 2-3 at the plate. Brett Strother and Keasling each had 1 hit.

On Friday, the Blue Devils earned a 7-0 victory over Knox Karns (12-7) at Dobyns-Bennett in Kingsport.

“We played well Friday against Karns,” Gillis said. “It was good to see the team bounce back after losing to Science HIll on Thursday.”

Avila set the tone of the mound, getting his first win of the season.

“Karns was another good team that just couldn’t get anything going offensively against Avila,” Gillis said. “He really kept them off balance all night, which produced a lot of fly ball/ground ball outs. Drew Keasling also threw out two runners from behind the plate.”

Patience at the plate was key to the win.

“Offensively, we were drawing multiple walks and then getting a big hit which scored multiple runs,” Gillis said.

Whitson was 3-4 at the plate in the victory. Strother was 3-5. Metcalf was 2-2. Keasling was 1-2.

The Blue Devils opened play on Saturday with a 12-0 loss to David Crockett (5-10) at Dobyns-Bennett.

Crain took the loss for UCHS and was 1-2 at the plate. Darren Soulier was 1-1.

Later on Saturday, the Blue Devils lost 5-1 to tournament host Dobyns-Bennett (11-7) in Kingsport.

Bridges took the loss for UCHS.

“I was really proud of Jordan’s effort on the mound,” Gillis said. “He battled hard for 6 innings and consistently held off DB’s rallies.”

Casey, Metcalf, Garrett Manuel and Avila each had 1 hit in the loss.

• • •

The Blue Devils currently sit at fourth place in the Three Rivers Conference standings. Elizabethton (13-4) is in first place at 6-0; Sullivan East (9-8) is in second place at 6-2; Sullivan South (11-4) is in third place at 5-1; Unicoi County (6-10) is in fourth place at 3-3; Johnson County (5-5) is in fifth place at 2-4; Happy Valley (5-10) and Sullivan Central (1-11) are tied for sixth place at 1-7.

UCHS is scheduled to travel to Sullivan Central for a doubleheader on Wednesday, April 10, beginning at 5 p.m. The Blue Devils are scheduled to host Mt. Heritage on Thursday, April 11, at 4:30 p.m. and travel to Cherokee on Saturday, April 13, 2:30 p.m. They will travel to Elizabethton on Monday, April 15, for an in-school game and will host Elizabethton at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 16.

Blue Devil soccer team wins 3 straight games

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School soccer team has won three consecutive games.

After starting the season with a 1-2 record, the Blue Devils (4-2, 2-1) have found a groove in recent weeks.

“We are playing well and coming together nicely as a team,” head coach Justin Ciralsky told The Erwin Record. “The senior leadership is doing a good job at keeping the boys focused at our tasks at hand. We are working hard in practice and hoping that hard work pays off on the field.”

Ciralsky’s team defeated Volunteer in Erwin on March 26 by the score of 6-0. Two days later, they held KACHEA scoreless for a 5-0 victory.

“The boys played great both games,” Ciralsky said. “Volunteer was our first conference win and a big confidence booster for the rest of the season. … The boys are starting to gel nicely and stay focused during games or practices. We need to focus on our attitudes and continue working hard in practices so that we can continue to play well.”

Another league win came at Sullivan Central on April 2 as the Blue Devils defeated the Cougars 4-1.

“The boys dominated the game in possession and we were able to convert some goals late in the second half for the victory,” Ciralsky said.

• • •

The Blue Devils were scheduled to travel to Sullivan South for an important conference game on Tuesday, April 9, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. They are scheduled to host Cocke County at the UCHS track on Thursday, April 11, at 6 p.m.  They are also scheduled to host conference foe Elizabethton on Tuesday, April 16, at 6 p.m.

Lady Devil softball team unbeaten in league

Following her home run against Sullivan South in the NFS Tournament on Friday, April 5, Ashtan Vance is greeted by her Lady Devil teammates at home plate. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

From Staff Reports

Three Rivers Conference victories last week over Elizabethton and Johnson County kept the Unicoi County High School softball team at the top of the league standings.

First, the Lady Devils (20-4, 6-0) defeated Elizabethton on Tuesday, April 2, at Lady Devil Diamond in Erwin. The Lady Devils held on for a 9-6 victory after the Lady Cyclones rallied for 5 runs in the top of the sixth inning.

Allee Griffith had 5 strikeouts in the circle for the Lady Devils. Carly Kinsler led the way at the plate for UCHS with 3 hits, including a homerun, and 3 RBIs. Halie Hawkins (1 RBI), Cassie Selvage (1 RBI) and Samantha Chavez each had 2 hits for the Lady Devils. Chloe Powers, Griffith (1 RBI). Betsabe Chavez (2 RBIs) and Bella Bogart each had 1 hit.

On Thursday, April 4, the Lady Devils bested Johnson County 8-2 on the road in Mountain City.

UCHS held a 2-0 lead after three innings before a 3-run fourth inning gave the team a comfortable lead. Two runs in the top of the seventh inning sealed the victory for the Lady Devils.

Griffith threw 5 innings and had 7 strikeouts in the win. Abbie Grindstaff threw 2 innings and had 1 strikeout.

Samantha Chavez and Bogart each had 3 hits in the win. Hawkins, (2 RBIs), Selvage (1 RBI), Kinsler (1 RBI) and Ashtan Vance (2 RBIs) each had 2 hits. Griffith and Betsabe Chavez each had 1 hit.

Current Three Rivers Conference standings are as follows: Unicoi County in first place at 6-0; Sullivan East in second place at 5-1; Sullivan South in third place at 3-2; Elizabethton in fourth place at 2-2; Johnson County and Sullivan Central tied for fifth place at 1-4; and Happy Valley in last place at 0-5.

• • •

The Lady Devils ended the week playing in the annual NFS Tournament on Friday, April 5, and Saturday, April 6, at Lady Devil Diamond.

UCHS cruised through pool play Friday evening with a 12-5 over Sullivan South and a 5-2 victory over Johnson County.

Griffith had 4 strikeouts in the win over South as her team’s bats came alive against the opposing pitchers. The Lady Devils had 4 home runs – one each by Powers, who hit a grand slam, Vance, Hawkins and Kinsler – in the victory.

Abbie Grindstaff earned the win in the circle for the Lady Devils against Johnson County, throwing 3 strikeouts in the game.

Griffith had 3 hits and an RBI in the Johnson County win. Samantha Chavez had a home run and 2 RBIs. Powers had 1 hit and 1 RBI. Hawkins had 1 hit.

The Lady Devils defeated Chuckey-Doak, 12-3, in their final pool play game on Saturday morning. UCHS scored 10 runs in the home half of the first inning, then cruised to victory.

Grindstaff (4 strikeouts) and Hannah Shelton (3 strikeouts) teamed up in the circle for the victory.

Bogart had 2 hits and 2 RBIs in the win. Betsabe Chavez (1 RBI), Powers (1 RBI), Griffith (2 RBIs), Caroline Podvin, Samantha Chavez, Kinsler (1 RBI), Rachel Hatcher (1 RBI) and Kaylia Street (1 RBI) each had 1 hit. Vance and Kaylee Lamb each had an RBI.

The Lady Devils opened the bracket portion of the NFS Tournament against Grainger, a potential postseason opponent, on Saturday afternoon.

After Grainger took a 2-0 in the at-bat, the Lady Devils responded with 5 runs in the bottom of the first inning. Grainger then added 2 runs in the second inning, 3 in the third and 1 in the fourth to hold an 8-5 lead.

Hawkins opened the bottom half of the fourth inning with a single for the Lady Devils. She then stole second and moved to third base on a wild pitch. She later scored on a double by Powers to centerfield for an 8-6 score.

Powers then scored on a double by Griffith for an 8-7 score. Street was brought in to run for Griffith. A home run by Samantha Chavez drove in Street and gave UCHS the 9-8 victory, which sent the Lady Devils to the championship game against Science Hill.

Powers was the winning pitcher for UCHS. Hawkins and Powers (1 RBI) each had 2 hits in the victory. Selvage, Griffith (1 RBI), Chavez (2 RBIs) and Vance each had 1 hit.

In the championship game, the Lady Devils managed only 3 hits – one each by Selvage, Powers and Samantha Chavez – against Science Hill. The Lady Hilltoppers had 12 hits en route to their 9-0 victory over UCHS.

• • •

The Lady Devils hosted Sullivan Central on Tuesday, April 9, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue.

They are scheduled to travel to Happy Valley on Thursday, April 11, for a game at 5:30 p.m.

They will host David Crockett on Monday, April 15, and Sullivan South on Tuesday, April 16, at 5:30 p.m.

UCHS softball team sweeps Eastman pool play

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School softball team cruised through pool play in the annual Eastman Tournament in Kingsport last week, but couldn’t advance through the bracket portion of the event and compete for the crown.

“That is a very good tournament,” head coach Grady Lingerfelt said. “Overall, I thought we played very well.”

The Lady Devils (14-3, 4-0) played two games on Thursday, March 28, neither of which counted toward the tournament results. In these two extra contests, they defeated Cherokee, 4-2 and Greenbrier, 2-0.

“Both of those games were good games, especially the win over Greenbrier,” Lingerfelt said. “They are a really good team who usually competes at the state tournament.”

Senior pitcher Allee Griffith pitched both games on Thursday with a combined 12 strikeouts in the two wins.

Offensively for the Lady Devils against Cherokee, Samantha Chavez and Carly Kinsler had 2 hits and 1 RBI each. Halie Hawkins, Chloe Powers, Griffith, Ashtan Vance, Kiley Bennett and Kaylia Street (1 RBI) each had 1 hit. Betsabe Chavez had 1 RBI.

Against Greenbrier Hawkins (1 RBI) and Powers each had 2 hits. Griffith (1 RBI), Samantha Chavez and Betsabe Chavez each had 1 hit.

The victories on Thursday gave the Lady Devils momentum and confidence going into the weekend. The team began pool play in the annual event on Friday, March 29, defeating both William Blount and Walker Valley.

“We played extremely well on Friday,” Lingerfelt said.

Against William Blount, the Lady Devils saw an early 2-0 lead turn into a tie game by the end of the fourth inning. However, UCHS was able to take advantage of runners on base in the top of the sixth inning. Betsabe Chavez reached on a single, then moved to second when Vance walked. Sophomore Caroline Podvin then drove in Chavez for the go-ahead run. The Lady Devils won the game, 3-2.

Griffith was again the winning pitcher with 5 strikeouts.

Betsabe Chavez was 3-3 at the plate. Hawkins, Powers, Griffith (1 RBI), Samantha Chavez (1 RBI) and Vance each had 1 hit. Podvin had 1 RBI.

Next up for the Lady Devils was Walker Valley. Lingerfelt’s team jumped all over the 2018 Eastman champion in the first inning – scoring 4 runs. UCHS added 2 more runs in both the fourth and fifth innings and won the game 8-2. Griffith was the winning pitcher.

Kinsler went 3-3 at the plate in this game with 1 RBI. Hawkins (1 RBI), Cassie Selvage, Powers, Griffith (1 RBI), Samantha Chavez (1 RBI), Vance and Bella Bogart (1 RBI) each had 1 hit. Betsabe Chavez had 1 RBI.

“William Blount is an exceptional team,” Lingerfelt said. “We hit the ball very well.”

On Saturday, March 30, the Lady Devils were sluggish at the start of their pool play game against Paintsville, Kentucky, but battled for a 2-0 victory.

“We should have won that game by a lot more,” Lingerfelt said. “We didn’t play very well.”

Griffith threw 9 strikeouts and 2 hits in the win. Hawkins (1 RBI), Powers, Samanta Chavez, Kinsler, Betsabe Chavez and Vance each had 1 hit.

The final pool play game for the Lady Devils was a 13-0 blowout victory over Three Rivers Conference for Sullivan Central Saturday afternoon. Juniors Abbie Grindstaff (6 strikeouts) and Hannah Shelton (1 strikeout) were in the circle for the Lady Devils.

Bogart had 2 hits and 1 RBI against Central. Street (2 RBIs), Selvage, Powers (2 RBIs), Kirsten Buchanan, Kinsler (2 RBIs), Podvin (1 RBI), Jimena Rodriguez and Allison Hensley each had 1 hit. Samantha Chavez and Betsabe Chavez each had 1 RBI.

The Lady Devils’ success in pool play gave them the number three seed out of 16 teams going into the tournament portion of the event. Unfortunately, Lingerfelt’s team was running low on energy going into the first game of the tournament on Saturday night.

Matched up against Cookeville, the Lady Devils managed only 1 hit in the game.

“Cookeville is an excellent team,” Lingerfelt said. “Their pitcher was as good as anyone I have seen in the tournament. She was left handed, which makes it harder to hit. We just didn’t play well. We ran out of gas.”

The loss eliminated UCHS from the event. Knox Powell won the 2019 Eastman Tournament.

• • •

The Lady Devils hosted Elizabethton in Three Rivers Conference play on Tuesday, April 2, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. They are scheduled to travel to Johnson County on Thursday, April 4, for a conference game beginning at 5:30 p.m.

They will host the annual NFS Tournament on Friday, April 5, and Saturday, April 6, at Lady Devil Diamond in Erwin. Lingerfelt’s team will play Sullivan South at 4 p.m. on Friday and Johnson County at 5:30 p.m. They will wrap up pool play on Saturday against Chuckey-Doak at 9 a.m. The tournament portion of the event will begin at noon on Saturday.

“We are very grateful to NFS for sponsoring this tournament each season,” Lingerfelt said. “They have been a wonderful supporter over the years.”

The Lady Devils will resume conference play on Tuesday, April 9, at home against Sullivan Central at 5:30 p.m.

Blue Devil baseball team bests Madison Co., Happy Valley

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School baseball team opened its most recent stretch of games across the mountain.

Playing at Madison County, North Carolina, on Monday, March 27, the Blue Devils (4-7, 2-3) followed the lead of junior pitcher Peyton Whitson.

“Once again, Peyton dominated on the mound,” Blue Devil head coach Chad Gillis said. “Madison County is a good team. Peyton just never gave them an opportunity to get going.”

Whitson was working on a no-hitter into the fourth inning before a fly ball dropped in between the UCHS infield and outfield.

“Keaton (Casey) then recorded an out by throwing out a runner trying to get to third,” Gillis said. “When Keaton shut down a scoring opportunity it seemed as if we took the wind from their sails.”

The Blue Devil offense traveled with them over the mountain on Monday.

“Offensively, we couldn’t have asked for a better night,” Gillis said. “We didn’t score in bunches, but we scored every inning and did so by working counts and getting timely hits. Jordan Bridges and Strother both had great nights offensively. Every time Jordan reached base, the top of our lineup got him in. Jordan also did a great job moving up on balls in the dirt to put himself in scoring position.”

UCHS won the game, 10-0.

“Tonight was an all-around great win and we are starting to see some progress from multiple players offensively,” Gillis said.

Whitson (2-1) threw 5 innings and gave up only 1 hit and no runs. He also had 8 strikeouts and had 2 RBIs. Casey was 2-4. Strother was 2-4 with 3 RBIs. Bridges was 1-2 with 3 runs scored.

• • •

Beginning Thursday, March 28, the Blue Devils played in the three-day FCA Tournament hosted in Bristol. Their first opponent was Morristown East at Tennessee High.

“Keaton started the game on the mound and didn’t throw bad,” Gillis said. “He had 4 strikeouts and 2 walks in three innings. Unfortunately for him, we had multiple balls misplayed by our defense. Ramon Avila relieved Casey and gave up four runs on hit batters. I had to let him grind it out because I knew we had two games in two days coming up.”

The Blue Devils found themselves down 9-1 in the top of the fourth inning.

“Ramon kept the score at 9-1 and we start to chip away at their lead,” Gillis said.

In the top of the seventh, UCHS had a chance to tie the game with the bases loaded and two outs, but just couldn’t get the runs across. Morristown East held on to win the game 9-7.

“There were many positives to pull from this game,” Gillis said. “Ramon never quit; he kept battling on the mound and gave us a chance in the end. Defensively, we began making plays and put ourselves in a good spot in the seventh inning. I was proud of how we continued to chip away and battle back in this game.”

Casey (1-2) took the loss on the mound. Caleb Crain was 1-2 with an RBI. Kaleb Metcalf was 2-3. Avila was 2-4. Bridges was 1-2.

On Friday, the Blue Devils lost another close contest – this time to Union High School of Virginia at Virginia High.

“This was a great baseball game to be a part of,” Gillis said. “Kaleb kept us in the game against a talented team from the start. It was back and forth the entire game with Kaleb getting a big hit scoring to runs to put us up one in the fifth.”

Defensive mistakes were costly in the game.

“The outfield misplayed some balls that allowed Union to get on the board multiple times, but it was a good experience for some of these guys as they were making their first starts in the outfield,” Gillis said. “In the end, Union brings in a shutdown guy and we timed him up pretty well by his second inning. It was good for us to get to see such a good arm because it will prepare us for future opponents.”

Despite the mistakes, the Blue Devils had chances to win.

“Overall, I was proud of our effort in this game,” Gillis said. “Again, we came out and battled and put ourselves in a spot to tie or win in the seventh inning. We didn’t get those runs across, but we keep giving ourselves a chance – our time will come.”

Union won the game 6-4.

Metcalf took the loss for UCHS.

“He threw six innings of great baseball, giving up 5 runs and striking out 6,” Gillis said. “This is Kaleb’s second varsity start and he should have won this game. He is really showing that he can be a great pitcher.”

Drew Keasling was 3-4 at the plate for the Blue Devils.

Playing Daniel Boone at Virginia High on Saturday, the Blue Devils trailed from the start.

“Boone came out hot against Bridges, scoring 9 in the first inning,” Gillis said. “We got some guys on base, but couldn’t make up that margin in the end. …  Boone is a really good team, we just didn’t have the arms to compete with them late in a tournament.”

Boone won the game 13-1.

Bridges made his first varsity start on the mound and took the loss. Crain threw two innings. Freshman Bryson Peterson made his varsity debut on the mound and recorded a scoreless inning. He also got his first varsity hit.

Avila, Crain, Metcalf, Peterson and Robbie O’Dell were all 1-2 in the game.

• • •

The Blue Devils returned to Three Rivers Conference play on Monday, April 1, at Happy Valley.

“We started out slow offensively,” Gillis said. “Their pitcher had us off balance and we didn’t make adjustments early in the game.”

UCHS took a 1-0 lead in the fifth. Keasling reached base and Kody Lewis came in to run. Lewis stole second and moved to third on a passed ball. Avila then hit an RBI sacrifice fly to score Lewis.

“Kody is a major threat on the bases as a runner and he came up big tonight to get our first run across,” Gillis said.

The Blue Devils added two more runs in the final inning.

“We had big base hits from Avila, L.J. Mitchell, Crain, and Drew to score a couple more runs in the top of the seventh,” Gillis said. “Lewis ended the night with 2 runs scored. It was good to see Crain come out hitting tonight and getting on base. We have to learn that we must make in-game adjustments at the plate to be successful. We did have some kids make adjustments late in the game, which is what helped us win a big conference game.”

UCHS won the game 3-0.

Whitson (3-1) earned the win on the mound. He gave up only 3 hits and had 13 strikeouts.

“Peyton gave us another shutdown performance tonight,” Gillis said. “We were slow offensively, but he held them long enough for us to manufacture some runs in the end.”

Avila was 2-2 in the win. Crain was 3-4.

• • •

The Blue Devils hosted Happy Valley on Tuesday, April 2, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue.

They are scheduled to play in a tournament hosted by Dobyns-Bennett from Thursday, April 4, through Saturday, April 5. They will travel to Sullivan Central for a conference game on Monday, April 8, 6:30 p.m. They will host Central on Tuesday, April 9, at 5 p.m.

Golf program begins at Unicoi County Middle School

The 2019 Unicoi County Middle School golf program includes, pictured from left, back row, head coach Gene Renfro, Luke Berry, Caleb Peterson and Noah Jones; front row, Hayden Hottinger, Kameron Bell, Carson Woodward and Leslie Calain; not pictured, Eli Bratton and Noat Attaway. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Keeli Parkey

For the first time, students at Unicoi County Middle School have the chance to hit the links for their school.

“The program was started to give an opportunity for student-athletes at the middle school level a chance to play a new sport and help build the program for the high school as well,” said UCMS head coach Gene Renfro.

Matches began last month and Renfro, who is also the head coach of the Unicoi County High School golf program, likes what he sees from his Jr. Blue Devil and Jr. Lady Devil golfers.

“(The season) has gone well,” Renfro said. “There has been a lot of learning and improvements by everyone. For the amount of golf played by everyone before the season, the progress has been noticeable.”

Playing for the Jr. Blue Devils this season are Eli Bratton, Noah Attaway, Luke Berry, Caleb Peterson, Noah Jones, Hayden Hottinger, Kameron Bell and Carson Woodward. Playing for the Jr. Lady Devil team is Leslie Calain.

Renfro also said the middle school program will be an asset to the golf program at the high school.

“The teaching of the game at UCMS will help as the student-athletes come to UCHS to play to be prepared more quickly,” Renfro said. “Hopefully, it makes the program better as a whole.”

School officials and a local golf course have been key supporters of the new program, according to the head coach.

“I would like to thank the administration for adding the sport and the Erwin Elks for use of their facilities for practice and matches,” Renfro said.

The next match for the UCMS golfers is scheduled for Thursday, April 4, at Warriors Path.

Middle school track teams ready to compete at first meet

The Unicoi County Middle School Jr. Blue Devil and Jr. Lady Devil track teams. (Contributed photo by Tim Higgins)

By Keeli Parkey

The coaches and athletes of the Unicoi County Middle School track programs are anxious to see competition.

“Our kids have worked very hard this preseason,” Jr. Blue Devil head coach Jason Hensley said. “The weather has played havoc with our preparation this year, but it has been the same for everyone. I feel like our kids are ready to compete.”

The first meet of the season is yet to happen for the squads, as inclement weather has kept the athletes off the track.

“The weather has played havoc with our schedule,” Hensley said. “We have been rained out or canceled by cold in all three of our scheduled meets so far.”

Assuming the weather cooperates, the middle school teams will compete at Science Hill on Thursday, March 28. 

“This will be tough competition, but we are looking forward to getting on a true rubberized track and seeing what we can do,” Hensley said. 

Hensley said “a ton” of experience returns to the Jr. Blue Devils team for the 2019 season.

“Many of our kids competed for our varsity last year,” Hensley said. “We expect to be very competitive in several events this year. They have all improved and we only anticipate them getting better as the season goes on.”

Two events where Hensley expects the team to be successful is in the 4×200 and 4×100 races. 

“Our boys 4×200 and 4×100 teams were top 4 in the region before an injury ended their season,” Hensley said. “All four of those guys are back – Nolan Bennett, Esteban Mendoza, Samuel Berry and Caleb Palaez-Luna. This year they are joined by Hunter Clouse who has been a great addition to our sprinter program.”

Mendoza will also be a leader in field events.  

“Esteban was also a top 10 discus thrower in the region and will be competing in both the shot and disc this season,” Hensley said.

Leading the way for the distance runners will be sixth grader Keilet Rodriguez, who qualified for the middle state cross country meet last fall, and seventh grader Luke Capps.

The Jr. Lady Devils have only one starter returning to the team this season.

“We expect this to be a learning year for them,” Hensley said. “Our goal for them is to improve every time we run. We have already seen progress with them in practice and are excited to see how they develop.”

Eighth grader Macy Robinson is expected to be a standout in both the shot and discus events.

“She’ll be joined by newcomer eighth grader Annie White as a thrower,” Hensley said. “Newcomer Karina Lopez will be joined by sixth graders Noelle Farnor, Briana Butler and Melissa Reynoso as our sprinters. Sixth grader Reagan Worley heads our girls distance runners.”

Lauren Trivette serves as the head coach of the girls team. Trivette works with the programs’ distance runners and throwers, while Hensley coaches the sprinters.

The Jr. Blue Devil team includes Nolan Bennett, Samuel Berry, Cedric Booker, Luke Capps, Ryder Casey, Eli Cleghorn, Hunter Clouse, Kevin Espinoza, Kaden Hodge, Blaise Holt, Juan Lopez, Luke McIntosh, Esteban Mendoza, Caleb Palaez, Jorge Raygoza, Keilet Rodriguez, Branson Salts, Garrett Sellars and Conner Tipton.

The Jr. Lady Devil squad includes Emma Briggs, Danielle Bryant, Brianna Butler, Karrah Dean, Noelle Farnor, Madalin Huskins, Avery Jones, Karina Lopez, Mary Pendleton, Victoria Ponce, Melissa Reynoso, Macy Robinson, Annie White and Reagan Worley.

The teams are also scheduled to compete at Greeneville Middle on April 4 and April 8 and at Science Hill on April 12.

Coach has high expectations for 2019

The 2019 Unicoi County High School Blue Devil baseball team includes, pictured from left, back row, assistant coach Ben Peterson, assistant coach Travis Griffith, L.J. Mitchell, Brett Strother, Peyton Whitson, Dakoda Bell, Robbie O’Dell, head coach Chad Gillis and assistant coach Keith Greer; front row, Kody Lewis, Jordan Bridges, Darren Soulier, Kaleb Metcalf, Caleb Crain, Keaton Casey, Ramon Avila, Garrett Manuel and Drew Keasling. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

Keeping with tradition, the expectations are high for the Unicoi County High School baseball team in the 2019 season.

“As we do every year, I expect to be in the top of the conference during the regular season,” Blue Devil head coach Chad Gillis told The Erwin Record. “I feel like we have the ability to compete and win within the conference.”

The 2018 season saw the Blue Devils post a record of 20-15 and take second place in the District 1-AA tournament before being eliminated by Greeneville – the team that finished tops in the 2018 state tournament.

“I feel like we had a good season last year,” Gillis said. “Sure, we didn’t go as far as we wanted/expected to, but we battled and accomplished some goals. Getting put out by Greeneville, the eventual state champs, was disappointing because we felt like we were evenly matched, but that’s the game of baseball. If we work on our mental approach/toughness I could foresee us being as successful as we want to be.”

Key to the Blue Devils’ success in 2019 will be pitching, according to Gillis.

“Pitching sets the tone for every game.  We have two, experienced starters going on Mondays and Tuesdays in Peyton Whitson and Keyton Casey,” Gillis said. “If we have strong pitching, I feel like we can play with anybody. We have yet to see how much offense we can consistently produce, because the lack of scrimmages, but I feel like it will all depend on our pitching and defense. We can manufacture runs, but our success will depend on pitching and defense.”

Whitson, a junior, and Casey, a senior, will be the starting pitchers for Three Rivers Conference games.

“They both have strong arms and are seasoned guys that know how to win,” Gillis said.

Other pitchers will be senior Caleb Crain, senior Brett Strother, junior Darren Soulier, sophomore Kaleb Metcalf, sophomore Jordan Bridges, sophomore Robbie O’Dell and junior Ramon Avila.

“We have some good arms and a lot of guys that know how to induce ground ball and fly ball outs,” Gillis said. “Getting varsity experience over the next few months will be key for our younger pitchers, but they have the talent to compete day in and day out.”

The 2019 Blue Devil team is a mix of experience and inexperience.

“We have some strong, experienced returners. Strother and Casey in the outfield helps us to have a very fast outfield with two strong arms,” Gillis said. “Pitching will be a strength, but could also be a weakness in that we will be throwing a lot of young arms late in the week. We are starting four or five guys each game that have never started or played a varsity game. I can see us improving with the guys we have, but we are just going to have to get those young guys game reps. Our returning upperclassmen must help teach/coach these guys throughout the season. They have to be the ones to set the example on how each position is played and the work that must go into being successful.”

The UCHS defense will include senior Drew Keasling, junior Dakoda Bell and Crain behind the plate.

“Drew was a spot starter last year and has done a great job so far as the everyday starter,” Gillis said.

Junior L.J. Mitchell will start at third base. O’Dell and Keasling will both see time there. Avila, Crain and O’Dell will all see time at shortstop.

“Ramon played some second base last year and has transitioned well to the shortstop position,” Gillis said. “Caleb Crain, Jordan Bridges and Robbie O’Dell will share time and second base. Caleb is a returning starter at second base. He has done a great job over the last two years.”

Playing at first base will be senior Garrett Manuel, Whitson and Metcalf.

“Our outfield will consist of Brett Strother, Keaton Casey, Darren Soulier, Jordan Bridges, (junior) Kody Lewis and Peyton Whitson,” Gillis said. “Casey, Strother and Whitson are all returning starters in the outfield, but all will see some time based on our pitching situation.”

The Blue Devils should also be solid offensively.

“We have a competitive lineup,” Gillis said. “The key will be to get guys on base for Strother, Manuel, Whitson and Casey.  We do have some power with these four guys and we will count on the other five to find ways on base. Caleb Crain and Ramon Avila will be atop the lineup, both being contact guys that know how to put the ball in play. Drew Keasling is a returner who had some big games offensively as a junior.”

Leading the way for the team will be its seniors – Crain, Manuel, Strother, Keasling and Casey.

“All of the seniors have had success in previous seasons and will play a major role this season,” Gillis said. “We not only depend on their talent and play, but their leadership will be needed with so many young guys getting playing time. This is a great group of seniors who have worked hard during their time in the program.”

The Blue Devils will compete in a league against Elizabethton, Happy Valley, Johnson County, Sullivan Central, Sullivan East and Sullivan South.

“Elizabethton has multiple returners who had a lot of playing time last season,” Gillis said. “They are probably the favorite, but I feel like the rest of the conference is decently even. I feel like we can beat anybody in our conference if we play to our ability and limit mistakes and freebies. In my five years, it has always come down to the last week of games to determine conference championships. I don’t see that being any different this year.”

Serving as assistant coaches this season are Keith Greer, Travis Griffith, Ben Peterson and Greg Van Tassel.

As the 2019 season moves ahead, Gillis said the team and coaching staff appreciate the backing of the community.

“I just want to thank the community for all of the donations and support we have been given,” Gillis said.

The Blue Devils opened the 2019 season on March 11 with a 7-3 Three Rivers Conference victory over Sullivan South.

“I was really unsure of what to expect today,” Gillis said. “We only had the chance to scrimmage one time in the preseason and that was the first week. This is also a newer group of guys with the varsity and the first start for many of them.”

Whitson got the win on the mound. He gave up 3 hits and struck out 6. He also went 3-3 at the plate with one double.

“Peyton dominated on the mound the entire game,” Gillis said. “He kept South at bay long enough for us to finally put crooked numbers on the board.”

The Blue Devil defense was key to the victory.

“We played well defensively also,” Gillis said. “L.J. Mitchell had multiple putouts late in the game. Ramon Avila and Caleb Crain turned a big double play to end a possible rally. First time starters, Kaleb Metcalf and Jordan Bridges also did a great job offensively and defensively.”

The Blue Devil hitters also did good work at the plate.

“I felt like we really worked their pitchers and ran pitch counts up early in the game,” Gillis said. “We battled at the plate and had some guys step up when we had runners on base. For the first game, I was proud of the way we competed and battled for seven innings.”

Manuel had a 3-run homerun in the win. Metcalf was 2-2 at the plate.   

The following day, South got revenge for the previous loss with a 9-1 victory over the Blue Devils at South.

“South’s pitcher really shut us down the entire game,” Gillis said. “We got to him a little in the second inning, but he only gave up one run. We really couldn’t get into a groove offensively.”

Crain started the game and took the loss for UCHS. Strother, Keasling and Avila each had one hit.

The Blue Devils were scheduled to host Sullivan East on Monday, March 18, then travel to East the following day. They will host Daniel Boone at Baxter Field at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 21, then travel to David Crockett on Friday, March 22, at 5:30 p.m. They are also scheduled to travel to Madison County on Monday, March 25, for a game beginning at 7 p.m.

Lingerfelt expects another successful season

The 2019 Unicoi County High School Lady Devil softball program includes, pictured from left, back row, Bella Bogart, Alison Hensley, Gabby Davis, Jimena Rodriguez, Kaylia Street, Caroline Podvin, Ashtan Vance, Samantha Chavez, Leah Edney, Abbie Grindstaff, Kiley Bennett and Kaylee Lamb; middle row, Kerstin Buchanan, Betsabe Chavez, assistant coach Pat Goddard, head coach Grady Lingerfelt, assistant coach Ray Webb, assistant coach Tanya Chavez, Hannah Shelton and Rachel Hatcher; front row, Carly Kinsler, Chloe Powers, Allee Griffith and Cassie Selvage; not pictured, Halie Hawkins. (Photo contributed by Anthony Piercy)

By Keeli Parkey

The 2019 Unicoi County High School softball team will be replacing six starters from a team that hosted a substate game last season. But head coach Grady Lingerfelt believes the group of Lady Devils has what it takes to continue to be successful.

“Our returning players are very good,” Lingerfelt told The Erwin Record. “I think we can be a very good team.”

Leading the way for the Lady Devils this season will be a group of five seniors – Allee Griffith, Halie Hawkins, Carly Kinsler, Chloe Powers and Cassie Selvage. Griffith will be the team’s main pitcher and throw most games this season. When not pitching, Griffith will play at first base. She will also hit cleanup. Hawkins, who is splitting time between the softball and track programs this spring, returns as the Lady Devils’ catcher and leadoff hitter. Kinsler will play first base and Selvage will play second. Powers will play in leftfield and may also pitch.

Also expected to start on varsity this season for the Lady Devils are junior Kiley Bennett at third base, junior Ashtan Vance in right field, sophomore Samantha Chavez in centerfield and freshman Betsabe Chavez at shortstop.

“We are a very good defensive team,” Lingerfelt said. “We have a good player at every position.”

These nine players are expected to play varsity day-in and day-out, but there are several other players who are also expected to see varsity time. Junior Abbie Grindstaff will pitch varsity innings. Her fellow juniors, Bella Bogart, Gabby Davis, Kaylee Lamb and Kaylia Street are also on varsity and will play on the junior varsity squad, as well.

“That will give them a lot of experience,” Lingerfelt said.

The sophomore class includes Leah Edney, Alison Hensley and Caroline Podvin. Freshmen on the team are Kerstin Buchanan, Rachel Hatcher, Jimena Rodriguez and Hannah Shelton.

“They are all good kids,” Lingerfelt said.

To make it late in the postseason, the Lady Devils will need to play well in all facets of the game. “Pitching is key,” Lingerfelt said. “But, we have to play good defense and hit the ball. We have to do all of that well.”

Serving as assistant coaches this season are Pat Goddard, Ray Webb and Tanya Chavez.

The Lady Devils will again compete in a conference against Elizabethton, Happy Valley, Johnson County, Sullivan Central, Sullivan East and Sullivan South.

Lingerfelt said Sullivan East was a preseason favorite to win the league with his team and Elizabethton also competing for the title.

A rainy preseason limited preparations for the 2019 season, but that hasn’t stopped Lingerfelt’s team from being successful early in the season – winning the first three games – despite not hitting the ball as well as they can.

“Rain really limited us,” Lingerfelt said. “We haven’t hit real well because we didn’t get to see live pitching much. Both of our play days got rained out.”

The head coach said he expects the team to find a rhythm at the plate sooner rather than later.

“They can all hit,” Lingerfelt said.

The Lady Devils opened the 2019 season with a 6-1 conference victory over Johnson County in Erwin on March 12. Griffith got the win for UCHS with 8 strikeouts. She also went 2-3 at the plate with a homerun and 2 RBIs. Hawkins was 3-4 at the plate. Samantha Chavez had a solo homerun. Vance and Bennett (2 RBIs) each had 2 hits. Powers had 1 hit.

The team earned another conference win at Sullivan Central on March 14. A 10-run third inning and 17 total hits in the game lifted the Lady Devils to a 14-1 victory.

Powers had 5 RBIs on 3 hits, including a triple in the win. Hawkins and Selvage were both 3-3 at the plate with an RBI each. Kinsler had 2 hits and 2 RBIs. Samantha Chavez and Street each had 1 hit and 1 RBI. Bennett had 1 RBI. Griffith earned the win and gave up only 3 hits.

On Monday, March 18, the Lady Devils trounced Sullivan East – the preseason favorite to win the conference – 13-2. Lingerfelt’s team took control of the game with a 7-run second inning and closed the game with a 4-run fifth inning.

Hawkins went 3-3 with a homerun and 4 RBIs in the win. Kinsler had 3 hits with 2 RBIs. Selvage (2 RBIs), Griffith (1 RBI) and Powers (1 RBI) each had 2 hits. Samantha Chavez (1 RBI), Betsabe Chavez, Vance and Bennett (1 RBI) each had 1 hit.

The Lady Devils hosted Happy Valley in conference action on Tuesday, March 19, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue.

They are scheduled to host Science Hill on Wednesday, March 20, and travel to Sullivan South on Thursday, March 21; both games are scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m.

The Lady Devils will end the week playing in the East Tennessee Classic on Friday, March 22, and Saturday, March 23,

They will play in the annual Eastman Tournament from March 28-March 31.

Coach: ‘We have a seasoned team’

The 2019 Unicoi County High School Blue Devil soccer team includes, back row, pictured from left, assistant coach Victor Chirica, Jordan Hensley, Thomas Byrd, Lupe Sandoval, Javier Castellon, Daniel Meza, John Andrade, Juan Ponce, Victor Reynosa, Tristian Avila, Bryan Espinoza, manager Ernesto Soto and head coach Justin Ciralsky; front row, Demecio Rodriguez, Cesar Soto, Juan Andrade, Miguel Vasquez, Daniel Raygosa, Jose Ramirez, Jesus Perez, Matt Hensley, Armando Saldana and Ivan Padilla; not pictured Eloy Garcia, Jason Guterrez and Martin Porras. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

After ending the 2018 season with a loss in the district tournament, the Unicoi County High School Blue Devil soccer team is working hard to improve on those results.

“We have been conditioning throughout the year and the boys have been getting together on their own and playing throughout the year,” head coach Justin Ciralsky told The Erwin Record. “We had a very rainy preseason so practice has been tough. We have been very creative in finding places to practice so we are excited for the nice weather to come.”

An experienced squad will take the field for Ciralsky this season.

“We have a seasoned team with lots of senior leadership,” Ciralsky said. “Their experience and leadership will be essential to our success this season. Our expectations are to continue to grow throughout the season and make it to the state tournament.”

This season is just the fourth in the history of the UCHS soccer program. While the team has had success, including a district championship and substate berth in 2017, player development is a challenge, according to Ciralsky.

“One of our biggest hurdles is player development,” he added. “We don’t currently have a feeder program so I have been pleased with this year’s team and how they are investing in the younger players at the high school and middle school.”

Seniors on the 2019 team this season are: Jordan Hensley, Jason Gutierrez, Daniel Meza, Demecio Rodriguez, Martin Porras, Juan Ponce and John Andrade.

“These seniors have now been with us for four years, so they know and understand the expectations and have worked hard to teach the new players how the program works,” Ciralsky said.

Players expected to make important contributions on offense for the Blue Devils this season are Daniel Meza, Martin Porras, Armando Saldana and Juan Ponce. Defensive contributors are expected to be goalie Bryan Espinoza, Miguel Vasquez, John Andrade, Demecio Rodriguez, Jason Gutierrez and Ivan Diaz.

The Blue Devils will compete in a conference against Elizabethton, Greeneville, Sullivan Central, Sullivan South and Volunteer.

“South and Elizabethton are always good games that are super important for the conference tournament,” Ciralsky said.

Two factors will be key to the Blue Devils’ success in 2019.

“Hard work and focus,” Ciralsky said. “Stand as one is more than a motto. It’s our expectation for the year. We don’t have one or two players who are the stars of the team. We are developing the whole team and we will win and lose as one.”

Other players on the 2019 Blue Devil soccer team are: freshman Bryan Espinoza, freshman Ivan Padilla, sophomore Miguel Vasquez, sophomore Matt Hensley, sophomore Thomas Byrd, junior Armando Saldana, sophomore Lupe Sandoval, sophomore Daniel Raygosa, sophomore Javier Castellon, sophomore Jesus Perez, freshman Tristian Avila, sophomore Jose Ramirez, freshman Victor Reynosa, freshman Cesar Soto and sophomore Eloy Garcia.

Serving as an assistant coach again this season is Victor Chirica.

The Blue Devils opened the season with a 2-1 loss to Union High School on March 12 in Erwin.

“We were not focused and we didn’t take the game seriously,” Ciralsky said. “The other team exploited that. They took four shots and scored 2. We took 34 shots and scored 1.”

Ciralsky’s team bounced back on March 14 with a 7-2 victory over KACHEA at home. The Blue Devils held a 5-0 lead at halftime.

“We played much better,” he said. “We moved the ball well and were focused throughout the game.”

In the second half, Ciralsky was able to play the team’s less experienced players.

“It was good experience for them,” Ciralsky said.

They were scheduled to host Greeneville on Tuesday, March 19, and University High in Erwin at 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 21. They will also host Volunteer on Tuesday, March 26, at 6 p.m.