In the other semifinal, Unicoi County went small to get a big win.
Sullivan South’s Russell Koesters, the epitome of a high school baseball player, pitched a complete game and helped his own cause with a two-run first-inning homer as Sullivan South pounded Elizabethton 8-2 in the winners’ bracket of the District 1-AA baseball tournament Saturday at J. Fred Johnson Stadium.
South advanced to play Unicoi County, which defeated Sullivan East 3-2 thanks to a sixth-inning suicide squeeze bunt from pinch-hitter Adam Hensley. The Rebels (21-8) will play the Blue Devils (24-7) at 7:30 p.m. in Monday’s winners’ bracket final.
In a losers’ bracket contest Saturday, Happy Valley overcame Sullivan North in 10 innings, winning 9-8. The Warriors (10-20) will play Johnson County in another elimination game today at 2 p.m. The winner will take on Elizabethton (15-21) in an elimination game at 5 p.m.
Koesters, who will be a preferred walk-on at East Tennessee State University this fall, allowed eight hits and two runs. One run scored on a wild pitch and the other came home in the seventh inning after an errant throw in the infield.
South kept Koesters out of early troubles with some standout defense.
“It’s always good to have them behind you,” said Koesters. “The infield and outfield can get to anything.”
South head coach Anthony Richardson said he didn’t have a problem with a nickname like Johnny Ballplayer because Koesters is cut from a different mold.
“I’ve told everybody he’s the hardest working kid I’ve seen, probably as a coach or even as a player,” said Richardson. “It’s good ETSU is giving him a shot. They will love him.”
Koesters’ first-inning drive was high and comfortably cleared the left field fence in the spacious ballpark.
“I try to keep pitching and hitting separate,” said Koesters, who finished with three RBIs. “When it’s time to hit, I focus on that. When my at-bat is done, it’s time to pitch.”
South also got a two-run single from Jordan Mullins. Hunter Cox, Charlie McCann and Chase Fields each had RBI hits.
Unicoi County 3, Sullivan East 2
With the game tied 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth inning, Sam McInturff’s single was followed by a single from Will Hubbard to put runners on the corners with one out.
On a 2-1 pitch, Hensley put down a suicide-squeeze bunt. East pitcher Brady McGrew fielded it, but didn’t have a play at the plate and the Blue Devils took the lead.
“It’s hard to do that in that situation,” said Unicoi head coach Charlie Baxter of the decision to signal for the squeeze. “It’s tough to make that call, and it puts a lot of pressure on the kid because it can be a double play.”
Hensley was a starter for the Blue Devils before a shoulder separation sidelined him.
“It was tough coming into the game in that situation,” said Hensley. “But I wanted to help the team the best I could.”
In the top of the seventh inning, Baxter brought Austin Green to the mound. Connor Simpson (8-1) worked the first six innings, allowing just three hits and one earned run.
Green has been the Blue Devils’ save guy all season, and he picked up his fifth with a dominating finish. Green struck out the side to wrap it up.
“He’s done that time after time this year,” said Baxter of Green’s closer work.
East got an RBI double from Hunter Stratton and an RBI single from Jeffrey Lunceford to tie the game in the fourth inning.
Unicoi initially took the lead on Hubbard’s RBI triple in the second inning. Ryan Lingerfelt had an RBI double in the fourth.
Hubbard and McInturff each totaled two hits for Unicoi.
Happy Valley 8, Sullivan North 7
It was 7-6 at the end of three innings, and stayed that way until the Warriors tied it in the bottom of the seventh.
With the score still tied at 7-7 in the 10th inning, Happy Valley had runners on first and second with one out before an infield grounder turned into a game-winner as North threw the ball away and it skipped down the right field line.
That made a winner of Joe Arnold, who tossed a shutout in relief. Arnold went seven innings, allowing six hits with one walk and seven strikeouts.
The Warriors overcame three errors and some missed scoring opportunities.
“It wasn’t pretty, but at this point it doesn’t matter what it looks like,” said Warriors’ head coach Caleb Moore. “Survive and advance.”
Justin Maupin went 2 for 5 for the Warriors. Justin Morefield was 3 for 5.
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