ERWIN — Elizabethton climbed back in the hunt for the Three Rivers Conference baseball championship with a 2-0 win at Unicoi County on Monday evening.
In the process, the Cyclones denied Blue Devils skipper Charlie Baxter his 1,000th career head coaching win.
Sophomore pitcher Dylan Richardson spearheaded the Elizabethton victory. Although he had just two strikeouts, the right-hander focused on the location of his pitches to scatter six hits and give up just two walks in seven innings.
“You’ve got to add 50 pitches to his pitch count because they were all pressure pitches,” Elizabethton coach Joe Nix said. “He did a great job as a young kid, handling the pressure and channeling it the right way. He’s a guy that gives us a shot every time he comes out, and he proved it today.”
The Cyclones improved to 6-1 in the league and 10-8 overall. They are just a half-game behind the Blue Devils, who fell to 7-1 and 12-2.
“It was huge, getting back in it and making sure we can control our destiny in the conference race,” Nix said. “Obviously, Charlie is going to get that 1,000th win soon. We picked a good day to delay it a little bit.”
Baxter wasn’t as upset about missing the milestone as he was with the Blue Devils’ missed opportunity to go up 21â„2 games in the league standings and the prospect of having two wins over all of their closest rivals.
“That was the biggest conference game of the year so far,” Baxter said. “Now we’re tied instead of being two games up. Hats off to Elizabethton. They did a real good job.”
The Cyclones were able to take advantage of its scoring opportunities, while the Blue Devils couldn’t convert theirs.
In the fourth inning, Thomas Miller got on base with a walk. Eric Carter singled and a stolen base put Miller at third. Lucas Hurley then provided a RBI ground out to score Miller for a 1-0 lead.
The next run came after Chris Lanthorn led off the sixth inning with a single. A costly Blue Devil error made it the 2-0 game.
Lanthorn went 2-for-3 with the run scored to lead the Cyclones’ offense.
“The guys did a great job of making things happen when they needed to,” Nix said. “It was a great heads-up play by Lanthorn when the ball kicked away from the first baseman.”
Conversely, Unicoi County left runners stranded on third base in four of the seven innings. The bases were loaded in the bottom of the sixth, and the Blue Devils left nine runners on base overall.
Michael Kiernan was the only Blue Devil to have multiple hits, going 2-for-3 in the contest. Jonathan Davis suffered the loss, despite the Unicoi ace recording seven strikeouts and giving up just five hits.
“They did things they had to do to put runs on the board and we never adjusted,” Baxter said. “We squared three balls up all day long, but they were far enough apart where they didn’t make any difference. Their pitcher did a good job keeping us off stride. Baseball is a game of adjustments and we didn’t make any.”
Unicoi County will have a chance to get back on track and for Baxter to reach the milestone win today at Happy Valley. Elizabethton returns to action Wednesday when it hosts Sullivan North.