Bulldogs take bite out of Unaka

Published 11:44 pm Tuesday, May 9, 2017

by Jonathan Pleasent

A combination of timely hitting and a strong all-around defense led the Hampton Bulldogs to a hard-fought 10-2 victory against the Unaka Rangers at the District I-A tournament hosted by David Crockett High School.

There was a lot of contact on the ball from both sides, with Unaka leading in hits through most of the game. Unfortunately for Ranger’s fans, more often than not the Bulldogs were able to get in the third out before much of an effect played out on the scoreboard.

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Both teams struggled to follow through in the first couple of innings, with the only scoring run coming from a single by Unaka’s Kyler Lewis that earned him an RBI on Bryson Street. Hampton bounced back in the 3rd after a string of hits, and a critical walk allowed the Bulldogs to bat in Lane Potter, Wyatt Lyons, and Dru Owens, respectively. An Owens hit and a following sacrifice play off of David Fleenor, earned two more RBIs that turned over the lead to Hampton 3-1.

The Rangers pushed back hard at the bottom of the third. Unaka led off with a huge double by Isaac Hill who advanced on follow-up hits by Justin Houghton and Blake King. With the bases loaded it looked as though Unaka was about to take back control had it not been for the excellent communication and teamwork from Hampton’s defense, especially in the infield.

A big part of the credit goes to the Bulldog’s Alton Clark, who threw all seven innings for an official count of 103 pitches. Although worn out from the effort, Clark was in good spirits at the end of the evening.

“We played a heck of a game,” Clark said. “The defense had my back, and we only had maybe one error, if that. We played defense all the way. Everybody caught the ball well, threw the ball well. I’m not a strikeout pitcher. I’m a contact pitcher and let the defense make the plays. We had a tough time at the beginning of the year, but we’re working on it and getting better every game. District’s here, and we’re all connecting at the right time.”

As well as Hampton’s defense held out, it was still anybody’s game all the way up to the fifth inning when the Bulldogs made a series of huge offensive plays including two big doubles by Dru Owens and Jacob Byrd, the latter of which coincided with a change out by Unaka’s pitching staff. Although cut short at third base, Byrd’s efforts earned him two RBIs and concluded a four-run rally that saw lead go up 9-2.

A final run in the sixth inning made the situation all the worse, but the Rangers never quit trying to make a critical push on Hampton’s defense. Forcing Clark and the infield to earn every out, Unaka struggled on and played just as hard in the seventh inning as they did in the first. Despite the effort, the Rangers could never catch the break they needed and the game wrapped up with the Bulldogs moving on with a 10-2 win.

Commenting on Clark’s performance on the mound, Hampton Head Coach Matthew Hardin had nothing but praise.

“He threw strikes and didn’t walk people. There’s no way to defend a walk, and if you make them hit the ball, you have a chance of getting them out. I’ve never seen a walk get out before they got to first base,” Hardin joked. “He kept them off balance. I was tickled to death with the way he pitched; tickled to death with the way we played defense. We’ve had to make a lot of mistakes during the season and learn from them to get to the point where were starting to do things the right way.”