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.

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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.

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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.