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.