Unaka collects 3rd straight tournament title
Published 10:25 am Monday, May 11, 2015
As soon as Cloudland Elementary had climbed back into the game, Unaka Elementary delivered the knockout punch. The Junior Lady Rangers won their third consecutive Little Watauga Valley Conference tournament title with a 17-7 win in six innings.
Most Valuable Player and Rangers catcher Madison Pierce was 3-for-3 with a pair of doubles and knocked in the game’s deciding run in the last of the sixth inning for her third RBI of the game. She also made a pair of spectacular plays behind the plate to halt a budding rally by the Junior Lady Highlanders.
“We play as a team really well, and I’m going to miss it a lot,” Pierce said. “We have been together a long time, and I couldn’t ask for a better team or coaching staff. I am looking forward to high school, and I am ready for it.”
Unaka jumped out to a 5-0 lead after two innings, with Tayla Potter ripping an RBI double in the second as the Rangers scored three runs in the frame. An infield error by the ’Landers led to two Unaka first-inning runs. In the second, Potter’s two-bagger brought in one run, and a ground out by Sarah Elliott plated another.
Savannah Tipton reached on an infield hit, stole second and went to third on a grounder from pitcher Cydney Forney. She scored on a wild pitch for a 5-0 Ranger lead.
The ’Landers stormed back in the top of the third with three runs that could have been much more except for a pair of tags at the plate on bang-bang plays. Heaven Caraway opened the stanza with a walk, and Krissy Bare was hit by a pitch.
Emma Roberts walked to load the bases, and catcher Kaylen Fields walked as well to force home a run. Gracie Cook then ripped a double to centerfield that saw two runs come across, but Fields was cut down trying to score on a fine relay throw from shortstop Ericka Potter to Pierce who applied a swipe tag on Fields.
“It was a good throw and I just squeezed the ball really hard,” Pierce said.
Cook reached third on the play, and she tried to come home on a grounder off the bat of Kenzie Birchfield to Potter, who fired home in time to nail Cook at the dish to end the rally and leave Unaka in front 5-3.
“Since I took over the program, these kids have improved by leaps and bounds,” Lady ’Landers manager Matt Birchfield said. “To come from where we were three years ago to get in the championship game shows how far we have come. We play a lot of sixth-graders, and they had to grow up in a hurry. We have just three eighth-graders and three seventh-graders, so we’re young.”
The Rangers then sent 14 hitters to the plate in the last of the third, scoring nine runs and ending the competitive phase of this one. Pierce had a pair of doubles in the frame, including one to lead things off.
She scored on the front end of a double steal after Taylor Shanks walked. Shanks then took off for second as Fields fired down, Pierce then took off from third and beat the relay to the plate for a 6-3 Unaka lead.
After an infield hit from Kennedy Morelock and a walk to Tayla Potter loaded the bases, Sarah Elliott drove home two more runs with a single to center. Forney added an RBI single that left the bases juiced, and Ericka Potter smashed a triple to the fence in left center that cleared the bases and gave Unaka a 10-3 advantage.
Pierce doubled Potter around, and again Pierce stole home on the double steal — this time with Myah Parlier as the front base stealer. When the dust had settled from the uprising, the Rangers stood with a 14-3 lead.
Cloudland refused to quit after the Unaka onslaught and came right back with four runs in the top of the fourth with Cook collecting her second double and fourth run batted in of the game. She finished 2-for-4 with two doubles and four RBI and made the all tournament team.
Unaka added two runs in the fourth for a 16-7 lead and both teams were scoreless in the fifth.
In the sixth Forney reached on an infield hit giving her a 3-for-5 day at the plate. She swiped second and came around on a sharp base hit from Pierce for the game winner with the 10-run rule.
“Everybody thought we would have a down year after losing so many from last year,” commented Lady Rangers manager James Pearson. “But this group of girls took right up where the others left off. We lose another good group this year, so we need our young players to step up and the girls coming up from sixth grade, we’ll need for them to show what they have.”
Little Watauga Valley Conference softball tournament
Cloudland 003 400 – 7 5 3
Unaka 239 201 – 17 13 2
W – Forney L – K.Birchfield
DP – C 1, U 1. LOB C 6, U 6.
3B – E.Potter. 2B – Pierce 2, Cook 2, T.Potter.
All Tournament team
MVP – Madison Pierce.
U – Ericka Potter, Tayla Potter, Cydney Forney.
C – Gracie Cook, Kenzie Birchfield, Kaylen Fields
JC – Hannah Brooks, Bella Miller, Lindsey Wills.