Combining those things turned into a 3-1 victory for Unicoi County over Elizabethton on Tuesday at Lady Devils Diamond, clinching the Three Rivers Conference softball title.
Unicoi improved to 10-0 in league play and 26-8 overall while the Lady Cyclones fell to 8-2, 14-7.
Laughren allowed four baserunners in the first two innings, before knocking off 16 of the final 17 batters she faced.
“I knew it was a big game,” said Laughren, a junior. “I just needed to relax. There was no need to stress about it.”
Helping make things more comfortable was the bottom of the first inning. Haley Webb and Cassie Foster drew walks, and Laughren got a good look at a pitch over the plate. She drove it off the top of the centerfield fence for an RBI double.
“I was surprised I got something to hit,” said Laughren. “I was glad I got a double out of it and got a run in.”
After Laughren’s hit put runners on second and third, Destinie Hayes drove a sacrifice fly that was caught in foul territory in left field. Two runs scored on the play as an errant throw allowed the courtesy runner from second to reach home plate.
It was 3-0, and the Lady Cyclones were in a hole. As it turned out, the decision to start Maci Elliott in the circle — instead of No. 1 pitcher Lindsey Cunningham — was a defining factor in the game.
“Sometimes against a slower pitcher, the other team has a tendency to pop the ball up, but (Elliott) couldn’t get it over the plate,” said Elizabethton coach Leanne Click. “It is what it is, but I wouldn’t change the way I did it.”
Highlighting the situation was the work of Cunningham, who took over in the circle in the second inning. Cunningham shut the Lady Blue Devils out the rest of the way, allowing just three hits in five innings.
Unicoi head coach Grady Lingerfelt said he wasn’t surprised to see Elliott start.
“We hit Cunningham pretty good over at their place,” said Lingerfelt. “We just try to play whoever is out there. I’m real disappointed we didn’t hit the ball against Cunningham this time.”
Elizabethton’s only run came off the bat of Cunningham. She led off the top of the seventh inning with a solo home run.
“Lindsey has done really well hitting this year,” said Click.
Laughren ended the threat by inducing three softly hit ground balls back to the circle after Cunningham’s hit. She finished with a three-hitter, walking one and striking out six.
“She’s getting better as a pitcher,” said Lingerfelt. “She had a pretty solid game overall. Defensively Kaylee Nicholson, Haley Webb and Cassie Foster played well.”
Foster took away a potential home run off the bat of Caley Hodge, and Nicholson made a nice running catch to end the second inning with the bases loaded.
Unicoi plays at Happy Valley today while Elizabethton, which faces Sullivan South today, plays host to the Warriors on Thursday.
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