A four-run third inning broke the game open, and Sam McInturff's four-hit effort helped the Blue Devils defeat Sullivan South 7-3 for the Region 1-AA championship at Devils Diamond on Wednesday night.
Unicoi improved to 28-7 and earned home-field advantage for Friday's sectional contest against Christian Academy of Knoxville at 7:30 p.m.
South fell to 23-11 and will travel to take on Knox Catholic with a game time yet to be determined.
Winning region titles is commonplace for the Blue Devils, but the importance isn't lost on head coach Charlie Baxter.
“It's a big deal, and we take a lot of pride in it,” said Baxter. “Everybody wants to be there, and I feel fortunate we played good enough to pull it off.”
The Blue Devils went with Connor Simpson on the mound, and the senior right-hander delivered a victory. But it came with some ups and downs, despite the fact he surrendered only two hits in 5 2/3 innings. Seven walks, a hit batter, and a pair of wild pitches were the issues.
Baxter pulled Simpson in the sixth inning after a pair of walks, and turned it over to closer Austin Green.
“We started to pull him at the start of the inning, but we wanted to see if he could get through the 7-8-9 hitters,” said Baxter. “We really didn't want to throw Green for more than an inning. But he got four outs instead.”
Green closed out the sixth with a strikeout, and ended the game with another K to earn his sixth save while Simpson improved to 9-1 on the season.
Meanwhile, McInturff was rocking the authoritative stick at the plate. He hit a looping single to center in the second inning, and later added three more singles — including an RBI hit with two outs in the fourth inning.
“They were trying to bust me in with the fastball, and I just settled down and tried not to do too much with it, and took it the other way,” said McInturff.
Unicoi jumped ahead 1-0 in the bottom of the first inning. Ethan Rice started things with a single, and he scored on Hunter Burnett's RBI ground out.
In the third inning, Ryan Lingerfelt had an RBI double over the right fielder's head to make it 2-0. Later in the inning, Adam Hensley drew a bases-loaded walk, and Nathan Derry had an RBI sacrifice bunt. Another run scored on an error, and Unicoi led 5-0.
South scratched across three runs in the fourth and fifth innings, on two wild pitches and an error. Unicoi got a run back on a South error in the bottom of the fifth inning.
McInturff said plate discipline was a key for the Blue Devils, who totaled 10 hits and drew four walks.
“I think we really had good approaches at the plate,” he said. “We weren't too aggressive.”
For South, which got two hits from Dalton Light, it was a matter of not making plays and not getting timely hits, said head coach Anthony Richardson.
“At this time of year, you can't give anybody extra outs,” he said. “We didn't get key hits, and we had mental errors.”
Cooper Jackson started and lost for the Rebels, allowing six hits and five runs in three innings of work.
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