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.