By Keeli Parkey
The Unicoi County High School baseball team may have lost three games last week, but head coach Chad Gillis and his players didn’t go down without a fight.
The Blue Devils (10-13, 5-5) opened the week with a series against Elizabethton (19-5, 11-0), the top team in the Three Rivers Conference. The first game, a 6-2 victory by the Cyclones, was played at Elizabethton on Monday, April 15.
“I thought Keaton (Casey) pitched a great game tonight,” Gillis said. “He made great pitches in big situations and gave us opportunities to get easy outs. Making the easy out seemed to be a problem for us tonight. We had 6 defensive errors allowing 5 unearned runs.
Elizabethton took a 3-0 lead in the second. The Blue Devils came back to score 2 runs in the fourth inning.
“Keaton led off the inning with a double followed by a single from Caleb Crain,” Gillis said. “Brett Strother hits a double off the wall scoring both Casey and Crain. Brett then moves to third on a single by Drew Keasling. We could not get Brett across the plate to tie the game up.”
The fifth inning was the difference in the game as the Cyclones scored 3 additional runs.
“If we make a couple plays, we make this a much better game and give ourselves a chance to win,” Gillis said. “I am proud of Keaton’s effort tonight and he did exactly what we needed him to do on the mound.”
Casey (3-3) took the loss. He gave up 6 runs on 5 hits and had 6 strikeouts. He also had 1 hit in the game. Crain was 1-2 at the plate. Strother was 1-3 with 2 RBIs. Keasling was 1-2.
The Blue Devils and Cyclones squared off again on Tuesday, April 16 – this time in Erwin.
“We started the game out on a bad note, giving up 4 runs on two home runs in the first inning,” Gillis said. “Putting those runs up early really got them going.”
After the shaky start, the Blue Devils started playing better.
“Peyton (Whitson) and the rest of the team seemed to settle down some allowing only 3 runs for the rest of the game,” Gillis said. “I think Peyton battled and did a great job for 4-1/3 innings. He ended the game with 10 strikeouts, which shows that he settled in only after a big inning.”
Kaleb Metcalf came on in relief later in the game, giving up no runs in 2-1/3 innings.
“Kaleb did a great job,” Gillis said.
Mistakes on defense have been costly for the Blue Devils.
“We are making it hard on ourselves when pitchers are getting ground balls, but we aren’t getting the putouts,” Gillis said. “Our defense will have to be a focus going into the district tournament. It’s hard to win games in our conference making those mistakes; it’s even harder when it’s against the top team in the state.”
The Cyclones won the game 7-0.
Whitson (4-2) took the loss. He gave up 7 hits, 7 runs and had 10 strikeouts. Ramon Avila, L.J. Mitchell and Robbie O’Dell each had one hit.
• • •
The Blue Devils hosted a tough opponent from the Northeast on Thursday, April 18, in Erwin as Wolcott High School from Connecticut visited the Valley Beautiful.
“I thought we battled both offensively and defensively, but we just couldn’t get a timely hit to put some runs across,” Gillis said. “It was good to see us come out and fight after a tough series against Elizabethton.”
Wolcott won the game 1-0.
Metcalf had a solid outing on the mound for the Blue Devils.
“I was proud of the way Kaleb threw in this one,” Gillis said. “This team was very comparable to Elizabethton. Kaleb, once again, kept them off balance with his breaking ball and spotting his fastball. He gets a lot of fly ball outs on his breaking ball. We cleaned it up defensively today, committing one throwing error, but that run didn’t score.”
Metcalf gave up 5 hits and 1 run in the loss.
• • •
The Blue Devils played a series with conference foe Johnson County on Monday, April 22, and Tuesday, April 23, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. They are scheduled to host David Crockett on Friday, April 26, at 6 p.m. and Madison County at noon on Saturday, April 27.
They will wrap up the regular season next week with a game at Dobyns-Bennett on Monday, April 26, and a game at Science Hill on Tuesday, April 30; both games are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.