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ERWIN — With the Three Rivers Conference title on the line, Unicoi County’s softball team was all business and performed well in every phase of the game.
The Lady Blue Devils defeated Elizabethton 6-2 to finish off a perfect league slate Thursday at Lady Devils Diamond.
“That’s our first goal, winning the conference,” said Unicoi head coach Grady Lingerfelt. “I was real pleased with the effort.”
Unicoi County finished 10-0 in the league and improved to 23-5 overall. The Lady Cyclones finished 8-2, and fell to 19-10 overall.
Unicoi got a positive contribution from every player on the field while Tiffany Laughren produced a standout effort. The sophomore went 2 for 3 with three RBIs at the plate and also pitched the final two innings to earn the save. She also connected on her 14th home run of the season.
“Winning the conference is expected of us,” said Laughren. “It’s a tradition for Unicoi County, and we want to keep it.”
Taylor Wright also has 14 homers for the Lady Blue Devils, who have hit 42 as a team.
Kaylee Nicholson started in the circle, and pitched five strong innings to earn the win. She walked two and struck out three, relying on a strong defense behind her.
Laughren came in to relieve Nicholson in the top of the sixth inning, and eventually got five straight outs.
“I’ve (pitched in relief) a lot now,” said Laughren. “I felt confident. I knew what I had to do, what the hitters strengths and weaknesses were.”
Unicoi County — which defeated Elizabethton 12-7 last week — struck first in this contest, getting a ringing RBI single from Wright in the bottom of the first inning.
Elizabethton responded quickly, loading the bases on a walk and a pair of hits. Then Summer Reece smacked a two-run single to right field, giving the Lady Cyclones a 2-1 advantage.
Then came a bit of controversy. After Cheyenne Delffs drew a leadoff walk, Laughren hit a high fly ball down the left field line. The ball easily cleared the fence, and definitely landed in foul territory. However, home plate umpire Herb Greenlee ruled the ball went over the top of the fair pole before curving.
“Honestly I couldn’t see it because the sun was in my eyes,” said Laughren.
Said Lingerfelt, “I thought it went over the pole. When the ump says it’s fair, it’s fair.”
Elizabethton head coach Leanne Click had a different viewpoint.
“I was pulling for foul obviously,” said Click. “It was a tough call. I asked him to get help, but he said he couldn’t. We just had to roll with the punches.”
The shot gave Unicoi a 3-2 lead that it never relinquished.
In the bottom of the fourth, Laughren ripped a single to center field to score Chelsey Gardner, pushing Unicoi out to a 5-2 lead.
The Lady Blue Devils got defensive in the top of the sixth inning. Sophie Bremer led off with a single for Elizabethton, but Laughren got Caley Hodge to ground the ball to second baseman Grayson Goddard. She turned it into a double play by tagging Bremer and throwing out Hodge.
It was Unicoi’s second double play of the game. Gardner authored the first one, catching a line drive in center field and gunning down the runner who strayed too far off of third base.
“We played good defense,” said Lingerfelt. “We made a lot of good plays.”
Gardner also scored three runs for the Blue Devils.
Elizabethton got a nice double play of its own in the bottom of the sixth inning. Madison Weaver caught a fly ball with the bases loaded and gunned the runner down at the plate with a nice catch and tag from Hodge.
Lindsey Cunningham, who missed the first game between these teams, took the loss. She gave up eight hits and six runs, four earned, while walking four with no strikeouts.