Lady Cyclones rally to upend Unicoi County for Region 1-AA crown

Published 10:08 pm Wednesday, May 17, 2017

In certain circumstances, an early 5-0 lead can quickly spell doom for some teams.
But don’t expect to be the case for Lady Cyclones.
Elizabethton kept calm and collective by scattering 17 hits and scraped across four runs in the bottom of the fifth to defeat Unicoi County 10-6 Wednesday evening for the Region 1-AA softball championship in Carter County. The victory guarantees a home sectional game Friday for the Lady Cyclones (35-6) against Region 2-AA runner-up Union County. The winner will punch their ticket for the upcoming TSSAA Spring Fling in Murfreesboro.
Even when the going got tough, EHS head coach Kenny Hardin knew his girls would be OK.
“They didn’t panic,” he said. “They have no limits. They’ve played this hard all year long. They’re a tough group of kids, and I’m very proud of them.”
It could be easy to panic, though. Unicoi County (33-13) struck early with catcher Keelie Hall smacking a RBI double in the first inning. Rylee Stiltner and Halie Hawkins joined the effort in the second with RBI base hits, but Tanya Chavez cranked a two-run shot to give the Lady Blue Devils the 5-0 lead.
Elizabethton roared back in the bottom half of the second Abbi McKinney and Macie Herrmann knocking in back-to-back run-scoring hits. Lauren Brickey helped the Lady Cyclones cut it within one, 5-4, to start surging up the momentum.
Brickey (2-for-2, 3 RBIs) was able to help bring the hammer in the circle, coming in relief. The Lady Cyclone tossed five innings and allowed one run off five hits and struck out three batters.
“Kellie (Cunningham) and Lauren have both been tremendous for us all year long,” Hardin said. “Kellie’s done that for Lauren before. They’ve got one another’s back, and it’s a great thing to see. I just told Lauren to keep them where they’re at, and she did that. She had confidence in herself and in her teammates. I thought she did a great job picking her spots.”
Brickey, who was all smiles with her teammates following the contest, said she knew her team had her back.
“I just felt like I needed to pitch around them,” Brickey said. “I knew my defense would have my back and that we’d come back and get the bats going. I just trusted my teammates.”
While the bats were clicking, Maci West (3-for-4, 3 RBIs) provided the spark needed for her team in the fourth, scoring Brickey with a double to tie up the game at 5-5. Autumn Hensley followed up her teammate with a RBI shot to give the Lady Cyclones the first lead of the contest.
“I knew our bats would get us there,” West said with a smile about her team’s offensive production.
West followed up her previous at-bat in the fifth with a two-RBI shot as her team effectively put the game out of reach.
“Maci has hit the ball harder than just about any kid we’ve had, all year long,” Hardin said. “She’s hit everything at people. I knew they’d start falling for her and that was big for us tonight.”
Kara Dillard, Hensley and West each knocked in three hits each for EHS, McKinney and Brickey had two while Haley Fair, Allison Riddle, Jessica Cunningham and Herrmann added a hit apiece.
Hannah Bowen led Unicoi County with three hits during the evening while Stiltner had two. The Lady Blue Devils had 10 hits in the contest were able to help the Lady Cyclones prepare, after their multiple encounters this year, Brickey said.
“It’s always a good game when we play against Unicoi,” Brickey said. “These are the games we need. It gets us ready for the substate for the types of teams we’re going to play.
And as far as Friday goes, it all comes back to the same approach used during Wednesday’s victory.
“We’re definitely going to have to stay calm, focused and just do what we need to do,” Brickey said.

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