BLUFF CITY — Happy Valley’s girls could have phoned a friend, polled the audience and taken two extra swings each time up.
The Lady Warriors simply had no lifelines or answers that could stop Unicoi pitcher Kacy Silvers.
Riding a strong pitching and defensive performance, Unicoi County used a three-run sixth inning to key a 4-0 shutout win over the Tribe Monday, earning a region berth while advancing to the District 1-AA championship tilt on Wednesday at Sullivan East.
“It’s huge,” said Unicoi County coach Grady Lingerfelt. “Anytime you can get this game, it takes a little pressure off the next one too, knowing that you’re going to get to go. We don’t want to travel. We want to host and stay home, so we’re going work really hard and try to win it outright — and we’re in the driver’s seat now. Hopefully, we’ll get there.”
Seeking its first region tournament bid since 2003, Mike Dorsey’s squad was only able to muster two hits against the Unicoi freshman, who struck out 12 while allowing only one walk and a hit batter from the circle.
“Kacy’s been really good and she’s thrown the ball really well,” Lingerfelt added of Silvers, who threw 74 strikes out of 96 pitches on the game. “I’m really pleased with her. She’s a warrior. She’s done a lot of travel ball in her life and she’s a good pitcher.”
Happy Valley (19-17) still has a shot at the region, facing the winner of today’s 5 p.m. losers’ bracket semifinal between Elizabethton and Sullivan East, which beat Johnson County 8-4 in Monday’s opener, at 6:30 for the right to face Unicoi for the title.
For Happy Valley, it took four innings to muster some sort of offense against Silvers, who struck out seven of the first nine batters she faced.
Brooke Simmons reached with a single in the fourth to no avail, Jessa Dugger was struck by a pitch in the fifth for no answer and two batters reached in the sixth on a dropped third strike and a walk to see no production.
“I made a couple of mistakes not bunting people in right spots,” said Lady Warrior coach Dorsey. “You live and learn. It won’t happen again.”
Unicoi got on the board quickly with three consecutive base runners. Chelsey Gardner and Tiffany Laughren singled while Shea Pearson reached on an error. A fielder’s choice grounder from Cheyenne Delffs plated Gardner, but Happy Valley’s Simmons responded defensively with a 5-3 double play to end the inning. The Lady Devils mustered only two hits from that point until the sixth against Lady Warrior pitcher Brittany Morefield, who had a solid outing of her own with just 73 pithces from the circle.
“She’s pitched well the whole tournament,” Dorsey said. “She just keeps them off balanced. I can call any pitch at any time and she can throw it.”
Unicoi’s advantage grew to four in the top of the sixth, however, after a single from Laughren when an infield error after a tag attempt spiraled out of control and allowed a run. Kaylee Nicholson followed a fielder’s choice with a two-run single before the Lady Warriors could end the frame defensively.
Happy Valley had a final shot seventh inning. Kiara Coffey singled and Hannah Blevins appeared to have a single as a ball hit inside the line, sending chalk into the air. But home plate umpire Herb Greenlee saw it differently and the batter hit into a 5-4 fielder’s choice on the next pitch.
“It was fair,” Dorsey said. “I looked right at it. And they should have called this out at first (in the prior inning), a double play. It could’ve very well been a one run game going into that. You have a little more focus when it’s one run instead of four.”
Consecutive pop outs, capped by a highlight-reel diving catch from Unicoi’s Garnder in center field ended the game.
“That last catch out there was amazing,” Lingerfelt said. “That was a super effort and a super catch.”
Whomever escapes tonight’s finale between Happy Valley and the winner of Elizabethton-East will have to beat Unicoi County twice on Wednesday for the 1-AA title, giving the Lady Devils the upper hand once again.
But first, there is business at hand for Happy Valley.
“One win,” said Dorsey. “That’s all we’ve got to have and these girls will get it done. … It’s irrelevant who we play. We’ve got to play whoever shows up on the field.”
After five mistake-free innings, Johnson County’s defense slipped up. By the time the Lady Longhorns got their bats going successfully, it was too late.
“For the first four innings, we had two runners on and they had two runners on,” said Johnson County coach Dana Smith. “Then we turned them loose on one inning with the mistakes we made defensively. When you do that, that seems to, no matter what team it is, take your focus off the game a little bit.”
Johnson County had the same number of hits (eight) and less errors (two-to-four) than Sullivan East. But each of Johnson County’s errors keyed a four-run sixth inning which allowed the Lady Patriots to take charge. Sullivan East added four more runs in the seventh and the game was in their hands.
To Johnson County’s credit, it battled back behind East errors, but four runs wasn’t enough in the end.
“We seem to hurt ourselves sometimes with that,” Smith said. “It’s kind of an inconsistency we have been worried about all year and it comes back to bite us in crucial times and it did tonight. But the good thing about it is we came back and we were fighting and that seems to be the way we always do things.”
Angel Trent took the win in a complete game on the mound for East, while Cindi Edington took the loss for Johnson County. Each gave up eight hits.
Offensively, Casey Williams led East with two runs on a pair of hits, while Payne and Edington paced the Lady Longhorns with 3-for-3 and 2-for-3 outing, respectively.
The loss marked the final game for four Johnson County seniors on a team that had to replace four starters prior to the 2012 campaign.
Smith said her team worked hard throughout the year and was disappointed with the way the season ended.
“We had moments that we could’ve played with anybody and done anything we wanted to do,” Smith added. “Then we had moments where I’m not sure where our minds were. As young as we were this year and having to replace four starters, we knew going in we were going to have our work cut out for us.
“They worked really hard for me in the offseason and they worked really hard to this point. They are very disappointed as I am right now in this loss because it was not what we anticipated. We anticipated playing better defensively and it didn’t happen for us.”
Winners’ bracket final
Happy Valley 000 000 0 — 0 2 2
Unicoi County 100 003 x — 4 6 2
Morefield and Coffey. Silvers and Starnes. W—Silvers. L—Morefield.
Sullivan East 000 004 4 — 8 8 4
Johnson Co. 000 002 2 — 4 8 2
Trent and Scott. Edington and Watson. W—Trent. L—Edington. 2B—East (Scott, Standbridge), Johnson Co. (Edington, Miller, Watson).