It was no accident that Happy Valley head coach Mike Dorsey had his team show up in the Lady Devils’ blue and white colors for the winners’ bracket final of the District 1-AA softball tournament Monday at Sullivan North High School.
It didn’t matter with Laughren, a junior who was last season’s Johnson City Press Northeast Tennessee Player of the Year, on the other side. Laughren plastered a two-run home run over left center field in the third inning and gave up just two hits in the circle to lead the Lady Devils to a 5-1 win over the Lady Warriors.
“When they showed up in our colors, it sort of surprised me,” she said. “It was a little different.”
Laughren, who was walked at her next at-bat as she has been so many times this season, was even more surprised to have a pitch she was able to send out of the park.
“It was great,” Laughren said. “I don’t know if she really meant to do it, but I’m glad I got a hit out of it.”
Unicoi County improved to 36-9 and advanced both to Wednesday’s championship round and to next week’s Region 1-AA tournament.
“We’re assured of a regional,” Unicoi County coach Grady Lingerfelt said, “but we don’t want to travel. So we want to get it done (win the championship game Wednesday).”
Dorsey, whose Lady Warriors wear the blue shirts on occasion for autism awareness, admitted there was also a little gamesmanship with the uniform choice.
“When you’ve only allowed them nine hits and they’ve scored 27 runs (in three games this season), you want to take the blue out of it,” he said. “I tried to do something mentally, but it’s still alright.”
The Lady Warriors (23-14) still had one error, which proved costly in the second inning as it allowed Unicoi County’s Brooke Strother to score the game’s first run. Grayson Goddard hit a fielder’s choice on the next at-bat to score a Hannah Keasling, who was a courtesy runner for catcher Destinie Hayes.
Laughren’s two-run shot and Strother scoring off a passed ball provided the Lady Devils with a 5-0 lead in the third inning.
“We got that early lead and that really lets you relax, maybe not relax, but where you feel good about yourself,” Lingerfelt said. “Tiffany threw real well today. She wasn’t overpowering, but she had real good location. And the defense played outstanding. We made a lot of good plays today.”
The Lady Warriors got on the scoreboard in the top of the fifth after Allison Williams’ fly-ball for a double to center field, that the Lady Devils’ Cassie Foster still dove to get a glove on it. Emily Whitaker followed up with a RBI triple.
Kalee Johnson suffered the loss for the Lady Warriors despite giving up just four hits in six innings.
While disappointed, Happy Valley can still make it to the championship round with just one more win. They will play the winner of Elizabethton and Sullivan East in tonight’s losers’ bracket final.
“We’re doing fine,” Dorsey said. “We just have to come back and battle and try to get our first regional berth.”
Sullivan East 8, Johnson County 1
Courtney Leonard scattered five hits in a complete game and aided her cause by going 3-for-4 to lead the Lady Patriots (23-19) over the Lady Longhorns.
Lead-off Lexy Umbarger also finished 3-for-4 with three runs scored, as well as a RBI.
“Both of them have been doing that all year,” Sullivan East coach Michael Forrester said. “We’ve been looking for that effort all year long.”
Madeline Standbridge was 2-for-4 with a triple and three RBIs, while Hannah Gobble had three RBIs, including a two-run double. Overall, the Lady Patriots had 12 hits on the offensive end and played error-free defense.
“We’ve played them four times and we played real well against them four times,” Forrester said. “Today, we hit it better than we had, up and down the lineup. Lexy got everything started early and we kept it rolling. That double, that was a huge hit for Hannah.”
Brianna Snyder went the distance for the Lady Longhorns (8-20), who started two freshmen and two sophomores along with five juniors.
Johnson County was able to get some production in the middle of its lineup. Michaela Cretsinger, who hit at No. 5, was 2-for-3 and scored the Lady Longhorns’ lone run. Demi Blevins, batting in the No. 6 spot, also went 2-for-3 which included a RBI double that scored Cretsinger.
“I wanted to move her up, but she’s comfortable in that six spot. So we’ve left her in that six spot,” Johnson County coach Dana Smith said about Blevins. “I would have liked to moved her up to No. 3, but she’s hit six all year so I left her alone.”
The Lady Longhorns also got hits from Kelsey Duperry and Cindy Edington.
Follow Jeff Birchfield on Twitter. Like him on Facebook.