When the smoke finally cleared from a rollercoaster week of baseball, the old guard was the last team standing.
Despite its regular-season troubles, Unicoi County can lay claim to another District 1-AA title after riding a complete game from starter Jonathan Davis in a 5-3 victory over Johnson County Friday at Milligan College’s Anglin Field.
“I knew we were going to have a battle on our hands,” said Unicoi coach Charlie Baxter. “I knew coming in, East was really good, Elizabethton was really good, Johnson County really came on here at the end. I knew it was going to be a battle. I’m really proud of them. They did what they had to do.”
A tournament filled with surprising upsets and down-to-the-wire play fittingly came down to the last frame of the seventh inning.
Johnson County had the tying run on base with one out, but Gavin Whitson delivered a 6-3 double play to end their improbable run.
“(It’s) probably not what we expected,” said Johnson County coach Pete Pavusek. “I guess we settled for second. Of course, we’d like to have the District 1-AA title, but it wasn’t in the cards. Unicoi made the plays they needed to, they got the pitching they needed to and had a couple of innings where they mowed through us. They kept the lead and kept us off base. I credit Unicoi County and Coach Baxter, they turned it on when they needed to at the end.”
With the loss, Johnson County (16-11) visits Greeneville Monday in a 7 p.m. Region 1-AA semifinal tilt at Hal Henard.
Unicoi County (17-15), due to Chuckey-Doak’s illegal shenanigans in District 2, receives a bye to Wednesday’s championship game, where it would host with a Longhorn win.
Davis struck out six and gave up seven hits in the win from the mound for the Devils, while Johnson County starter Harley Reece took the loss, surrendering four runs in two innings. Longhorn reliever Andy Woods gave up one run, but kept Unicoi on its toes in a strong five-inning finish.
The Blue Devils, who were unable to take advantage of three first-inning baserunners, jumped ahead the second behind an RBI double from Brandon Foy and a three-base error that scored a second run.
The Longhorns closed the gap in the bottom half with a single from Jacob Whitson, who advanced on a wild pitch and scored when an errant throw sailed into the outfield.
Reece then hit a batter, dealt a single to Ryan Lingerfelt and an RBI double to Austin Greene to force a move to the mound by the Longhorns in the third. Davis surrendered a 5-3 ground-out for a run, but got the Horns out of the inning.
Johnson County’s bats responded as Judd Hammons singled and Dusty Stout walked. Harley Reece offered an RBI single, scoring Hammons, with an error in the outfield allowing Stout to clear the base pads and make it a one-run game once again.
The Longhorns were unable to respond offensively the remainder of the game and Unicoi added a run of insurance with Davis’ RBI single in the fifth to wrap up a win.
“They did a good job and stayed in there,” said Pavusek. “Andy Woods gave us a chance to win. He did well last night and did great tonight. It’s good for the future and gives us another pitcher to look at for next year.
“We probably could’ve played a little better defense in the early innings. We made a few mistakes and gave up a couple of early runs. We threw one away and booted one at second. Maybe we would’ve had a different outcome. If we could’ve scored runners in scoring position… there’s so many should’ve, would’ve, could’ves.”
Ryan Lingerfelt was 3-for-4 with two runs scored to lead the Blue Devils offensively with Davis and Gavin Whitson chipping in two hits each.
Hammons was 3-for-3 for Johnson County and in the on-deck circle when the double play ended the game.
“Johnson County had a great tournament,” Unicoi’s Baxter added. “I thought they played extremely well all the way through it. I’m proud of them. I think they battled. I expect them to go out and battle hard on Monday and give Greeneville all they want. I believe they can beat Greeneville.”
– – –
Unicoi Co. 022 010 0 — 5 9 2 Johnson Co. 012 000 0 — 3 7 2
Davis and Graham. Reece, Woods (3) and Smith. 2B—Unicoi (Foy, Green).