The Rebels walked into Baxter Field with a purpose, and walked out with a 12-5 victory over Unicoi County and first place in the Three Rivers Conference.
“We talked about the conference games being more important, and we knew this was a big one,” said South head coach Anthony Richardson, whose team had lost 3-2 to the Blue Devils at home earlier this season. “We know we will probably see them two or three more times.”
The Rebels (7-1, 11-5) moved a game ahead of the Blue Devils in the league standings. It was just the second loss of the season for Unicoi County (6-2, 13-2), with both of them coming in league play.
“We made mistakes and bad pitches, but that’s nothing to take away from (South),” said Unicoi County head coach Charlie Baxter. “They played an excellent game. They outpitched us, outplayed us, and outhit us.”
Things got sideways in a hurry for the Blue Devils as Koesters went “oppo” over the right-center field fence for a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Koesters later settled in on the mound, and held Unicoi’s bats in check while the Rebels built a 9-1 lead through five innings.
“He threw pretty good,” said Richardson. “This was the first time these guys have played (at Erwin) other than scrimmages. I knew how things could happen here, so we needed to score every inning.”
South almost did that, plating runs in every inning except the sixth.
In the top of the second inning, Unicoi’s defense started to get loose. A couple of errors helped South plate a run for a 2-0 advantage. Unicoi would finish the game with six errors.
Unicoi answered in the bottom of the second as Austin Green punished a Koesters offering over the left-center field fence to make it 2-1. It was Green’s first homer of the season.
The Blue Devils extended the top of the third inning with an error, and South made them pay. Dalton Light doubled in a run, and Cooper Jackson followed with a towering blast over the left-center field fence for a 5-1 Rebels lead.
“That was a big hit for us,” said Richardson.
In the fourth inning, things got even worse for Unicoi’s defense. With runners on the corners and nobody out, Caleb Krutak hit what seemed to be a harmless pop to the catcher. However, with three Unicoi players surrounding the pop and nobody covering the plate, Charlie McCann raced home from third base to turn Krutak’s popup into a sacrifice fly.
Making matters worse, Chase Fields went from first to third on the play. Eventually South plated three runs in the inning for an 8-1 edge.
Fields added an RBI single in the fifth inning.
Unicoi rallied for three runs in the bottom of the sixth. Sam McInturff had an RBI single, and Adam Hensley added a sacrifice fly. A South error prolonged the inning and allowed the third run to score, but Koesters pitched out of the jam.
Jackson finished with two hits, two RBIs and three runs for the Rebels while Krutak totaled two RBIs. Koesters also had two hits.
Hunter Burnett homered in the bottom of the seventh for the Blue Devils.
Green, who out-dueled Koesters in the earlier game in Kingsport, allowed six hits and seven runs, only three earned, in 3 1/3 innings of work. Green finished with two hits at the plate as did teammates Connor Simpson and McInturff.