ERWIN -- Unicoi County pitcher Austin Green struck out 12 batters and gave up just three hits in a 7-0 win over Johnson County on Monday afternoon, while head coach Charlie Baxter moved one step closer to a major milestone.
It was career win No. 996 for Baxter as a baseball and softball coach, on pace to hit the 1,000-win mark early next week.
More than reaching a particular number, the Hall of Fame coach liked how the Blue Devils hit throughout the lineup.
Ryan Lingerfelt led the way with a 3-for-4 effort, while Michael Kieran, Taylor Lafever and Green all ended 2-for-4.
“They’ve done that all year,” Baxter said. “That was a really good offensive day, and a really good defensive day, starting on the mound with Green. He pitched a great game.”
With the victory, Unicoi County improved to 4-0 in the Three Rivers Conference and 8-0 overall. Johnson County fell to 2-2 overall after losing its league opener.
The long winter has been the biggest challenge to the Longhorns, unable to get any kind of rhythm in a schedule filled with cancellations. It showed at the plate, where Johnson County’s offense consisted of three singles and one walk.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s 7-0 or 700-0, if you don’t score runs, you’re not going to win,” Johnson County head coach Pete Pavusek said. “We played good defense, but if they scored one run, it would have been enough. When you don’t score, you don’t win, that’s what it comes down to.”
Green struck out seven of the first nine batters he faced and he had 10 strike outs by the fifth inning. With just one walk, he gave the Longhorns few scoring opportuniites.
“I felt like my job today was just come out and throw strikes,” Green said. “I just wanted to come out and hit my spots and go from there. If they’re not hitting it, they’re not hitting it. Today, I just stepped up on the mound and threw.”
The game was a pitcher’s duel between Green and Johnson County’s Ryan Mahala over the first three innings.
Following a perfectly placed bunt single by Kieran in the bottom of the fourth, William McInturff opened the scoring with a two-run single.
“The first at-bat, I hit it off the handle right to the shortstop,” McInturff said. “I needed to pick better pitch selection. I just waited on it a little more and just hit it. We’ve been hitting good most of the year and we just need to keep it up.”
Ethan Rice added a RBI single for a 3-0 Unicoi lead.
The Blue Devils scored the final four runs in the fifth inning.
Kiernan had a two-run double, in between a RBI hit by Lafever and a RBI double by Hunter Barnette.
Johnson County’s most serious threat came the next inning after Brandon Vannoy led off with a single. A walk by Jacob Henson and a fielder’s choice by River Cazire advanced Vannoy to third before a 1-3 ground out ended the inning.
Mahala suffered the loss, giving up nine hits and six runs before giving way to Andy Woods in the fifth inning.
Not only did the Blue Devils outhit the Longhorns 13-3, they hit the ball with runners in scoring position.
“That’s the key,” Baxter said. “You can get a bunch of hits, but if you get them with nobody on, it doesn’t do you any good. We got them when we needed them and made the big plays.”
Unicoi County plays at Sullivan East today. Johnson County is scheduled to host Elizabethton in another Three Rivers contest.