By Matt Myers
Tee Blevins’ sluggers from Stoney Creek are making the best of a late-season run. Tuesday afternoon they set about displaying that desire to perform at a high level with an 11-4 win over Cloudland in the warm shadow of the Roan.
It was an end-of-the-year contest that featured solid play on both sides, but ultimately the Jr. Rangers were just too powerful at the plate, and too swift around the diamond.
Coach Blevins has been the architect of the Jr. Rangers’ late season, three-game win streak, and his quiet motivation stands at the epicenter of the squad’s recent success. After the win Thursday; he expressed his confidence in his team’s newfound fundamental play, as well as their desire to succeed despite early season struggles,
“Today we hit well, we ran well, and I feel like we really had our best pitching all year,” said a smiling Blevins after the contest. “Abram Hill really stepped up for us from the mound, he hung tough in tough situations, but really that is what all our guys did and that was exciting to see. This win is big for us going into the tournament. I feel like our guys have never given into some of the tough breaks we’ve had and we are really hitting a good stride here late. Tomorrow is selection day for the tournament, so we are excited about carrying this momentum into those games.”
A gritty offensive performance from Austin Taylor was the highlight of the Rangers’ night at the plate. In a game in which the youngster was hit by two pitches, Taylor finished an impressive 2-of-3 in his at bats. He hit deep paydirt in the top of the fourth inning with a line-drive RBI double in the gap between short and third. Isaac Hill and Micah Hunt crossed the plate for the Rangers, and the Jr. Rangers had a 6-2 lead they were intent on holding.
The play came on the heels of a Ranger offensive attack that became potent in the top of the third inning. Brent Parlier’s (1 for 3) well-placed floater between second and first in that inning, gave the the Jr. Rangers a 4-1 lead as Austin King and Hill crossed the plate.
In short, the Jr. Ranger attack was offensive early and quite often.
The top of the fifth inning was yet another maroon and black scoring display, and this time they did it with added style. On the fourth at bat of the inning, Blevins dialed in the “suicide squeeze” to Isaac Hill, and the youngster dropped a bunt that moved four inches and died fair just as Jacob Day ran by it toward an open plate. The chess move gave the Jr. Rangers a 9-2 lead and moved even more of the late-game momentum to their dugout. King would follow the wild scoring play with an RBI single to score Nick Pierce, and Hill (Isaac) would follow that with a single of his own to score Hunt and give the Rangers an 11-2 lead heading into the final at-bat for the Highlanders.
Overall the Jr. Highlanders did show marked improvement in their season finale despite the loss. Brinkley Mull pitched a solid first three innings and T.J. Davis, James Arwood, and Noah Arnett all garnered singles in the third inning to pull within two runs of the Rangers at 4-2. Good base running from Austin Whitehead was also prevalent for the Highlanders, as the youngster stole four total — including home in the bottom of the fifth inning.
The loss will also not leave the Jr. Highlanders (1-15) excluded from postseason play. They will face either Providence Academy or Happy Valley in next week’s Little Watauga tournament. UMS (6-10) will not know who it has been selected to play until later today.
Unaka 103 43 — 11
Cloudland 011 02 — 4