That was never more evident than Wednesday night when Brooke Strother and Tiffany Laughren hit two-run home runs in the first two innings to lift the Lady Devils to an 8-0 victory over Elizabethton in the championship game of the District 1-AA tournament at Sullivan North High School.
The Lady Devils (37-9) finished with 14 hits and Laughren pitched a two-hitter to win their fourth consecutive district crown and their 19th in the last 20 years.
Despite a tradition matched by few others across the state, winning a championship is something Unicoi County never takes for granted.
“We enjoy competing and we try to have the best program we know how to have,” Lady Devils coach Grady Lingerfelt said. “I know how hard we work to get to this point. We want to represent our school and county well. Hopefully, we do that.”
Strother’s two-run shot in the first inning set the tone for Unicoi County, who ended the first inning with four runs on four hits including a RBI single by Cierra Jackson.
“When we have a job to do, we come to do our job,” Strother said. “We play hard as a team and we play together. That makes it so much better.”
She thought she had popped up the home run ball until she rounded first base and heard her teammates yelling.
In all honesty, it was all the offense Unicoi County needed.
Laughren, who was awarded the tournament MVP and Three Rivers Conference Player of the Year after the game, gave up just two singles and one walk to improve to 22-6 for the season.
She said it was key to get on top of the Cyclones early and she definitely didn’t want the championship round to go to a second game.
“We talked about it that we wanted to come out strong,” Laughren said. “We didn’t want to play a second game. We did well today. I’m proud of ourselves.”
Besides her home run, she was walked twice. However, the strategy of pitching around Laughren is met with limited success these days.
Strother ended 2-for-4, while Destinie Hayes in the No. 5 spot was 3-for-4 with two runs scored. Jackson, at No. 7 in the lineup, was 3-for-4 with two RBIs, while lead-off Haley Webb was 2-for-4 with a RBI and a run scored.
Elizabethton starter Lindsey Cunningham gave up six runs over the first two innings to suffer the loss.
Emily Kiser pitched the final four innings for the Lady Cyclones (22-10). She also led off the seventh with a single, while the only other Elizabethton hit was a single by Caley Hodge in the fourth which advanced Sarah Bradley to third base.
Head coach Lee Ann Click blamed the lackluster showing on fatigue after the Lady Cyclones won two games on Tuesday. It was capped off by a 6-4 comeback win over Happy Valley, which Danielle Loving hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh and Cunningham followed with a two-run, walk-off homer in the eighth inning.
“It is an excuse, but we were tired from yesterday,” Click said. “Lindsey was worn out and that’s kind of the way it fell. I told them not to worry about it. What we had to do was win yesterday. Whether we won, lost, got killed, it didn’t matter because we move on. We couldn’t have not been in this game at all if not for the way we played last night. But, this team has worked hard and they’ve deserved everything they’ve gotten.”
So has Unicoi County which Laughren pointed out bounced back from a mini-slump weeks ago to win the Tiny Day Tournament in Greeneville before capturing conference and district crowns.
“We just got in a slump and we just got out of it,” she said. “It’s like any other softball team. They get in a slump, but you just have to get out of it.”
The teams now await the outcome of today’s District 2-AA championship game between Greeneville and Grainger to see who they will face in Monday’s regional semifinals.
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