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.

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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.”