The Unicoi County right-hander fired a two-hit shutout, striking out nine in a 7-0 victory over the Raiders in the opening round of the District 1-AA baseball tournament Friday at J. Fred Johnson Stadium.
The Blue Devils improved to 23-7 and advanced to the winners’ bracket semifinals against Sullivan East (14-12) tonight at 6:30. The Patriots whipped Happy Valley, 9-1.
The other semifinal matches Elizabethton against top-seeded Sullivan South at 4:15 p.m. The Cyclones held off the determined Longhorns in a 10-8 thriller in the late game.
Hubbard needed a little bit of help early in the game. The Blue Devils’ defense turned a 6-4-3 double play in the first inning, and shortstop Ethan Rice ended a North threat in the second with a nice running throw.
Hubbard knocked off the final 17 batters in the game. He stopped short of saying it was his best-ever game.
“I’d say it’s up there,” said Hubbard. “I liked my first game against Elizabethton pretty good.”
Hubbard (6-1) walked just one batter and didn’t use a lot of pitches. The complete game saved the rest of the staff for remaining tournament games.
“That’s very important,” said Blue Devils’ head coach Charlie Baxter.
Hubbard said he was hitting his spots, and his curveball was nasty. He also said he was relaxed coming into the game.
“I felt good because I trust my teammates 100 percent,” said Hubbard. “We have good players, and they back me up.”
Unicoi started the process with a five spot in the second inning. Dylan Putman roped an RBI double, and Nathan Derry slashed an RBI single.
Later in the inning, Austin Green drove in a run with a single, and Hunter Burnett’s fly ball double plated a run.
Baxter said the early lead was important.
“That’s what everybody strives for in the tournament,” said Baxter. “It’s always very helpful to put up runs like that.”
Green, Burnett, and Ryan Lingerfelt each had two hits for the Blue Devils.
Sullivan East 9, Happy Valley 1
B.J. Murray played the role of lock-down on the mound, and his teammates supported him at the plate.
Murray fired a four-hitter with nine strikeouts. He said his curveball got him through the game. For a video interview with Murray, follow Douglas Fritz on Twitter @FritzBlitzzz.
Hunter Stratton was 2 for 2 for East, which scored two in the first inning and added a five spot in the fourth — highlighted by Jeffrey Lunceford’s two-run homer.
Brady McGrew, who started the scoring with a first-inning RBI double, added another double later in the game.
Elizabethton 10, Johnson County 8
It was a wild back-and-forth game, basically decided by a bunt.
Bo Pless put down a perfect sacrifice bunt attempt in the bottom of the sixth inning and beat the throw to first. The throw got away down the right field line and two runs scored with Pless ending up on third.
The play gave Elizabethton a 9-8 lead.
“We’re a band of brothers,” said Pless. “Even when we were struggling, we stuck together and played like a team. It was a good team win.
“We were really intense and really into it. It was a good atmosphere and a lot of fun.”
Justin Carr drove in Pless for an insurance run, and Dylan Richardson, pitching in relief, made it stand up.
But the Longhorns came for a fight, and gave Elizabethton all it wanted. Johnson County exploded for five runs in the top of the fourth to erase a 4-0 deficit, getting a two-run double from Blade Hampton and a two-run double from Samuel Icenhour.
Trailing 6-5 in the fifth, Daniel Livorsi cranked a two-run double to put the ‘Horns back in front. A wild pitch made it 8-6, but Michael Robinson brought Elizabethton back within one run with an RBI single in the bottom of the inning.
Hunter Hodges finished with three hits for the Cyclones. Pless totaled two hits while Carr had two hits and two RBIs. Cameron Miller added two hits also.
“The guys in the dugout did a good job of staying up,” said Cyclones’ head coach Joe Nix. “(Assistant) Nathan (Fritz) said it best. We’ve taken teams punches this year and didn’t respond. We took Johnson County’s best punch tonight and responded.”
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