Unicoi County won the East Tennessee Classic softball tournament for a second straight year after rain forced the cancellation of Saturday’s championship-round games at Metro-Kiwanis Park.
The Lady Devils was awarded the championship plaque after finishing 4-0 in pool play and outscoring their opponents 28-2. Grainger, which ended up with a 5-0 record after winning the touranment’s final game over Cherokee, was the runner-up. In pool play, the Lady Grizzlies were 4-0 winning their games by a 17-10 margin.
“I thought we played well this weekend,” Unicoi County coach Grady Lingerfelt said. “We hit the ball extremely well. It’s good to get back on track. We hit it well early in the year and then we went into a little slump, but it’s back now.”
It was a classic understatement considering the Lady Devils have 47 home runs for the year, only three shy of the state record of 50 set by Daniel Boone last season. Lingerfelt gave his team high praise, saying this group of Lady Devils are even better at the plate than his 2009 state championship team.
“I know this is the best hitting team we’ve had,” Lingerfelt said. “Hitting-wise, yes, but (in 2009) we had a kid named Kara (Woods) who kept us in games. We won a lot of ballgames 2-1, 1-0. With her if you got two runs, you were going to win. I don’t think the pitching is on that level, but it’s not bad. I feel good going into the postseason.”
Leading the way is sophomore Tiffany Laughren, who hit her 18th home run Saturday morning against Rhea County. It moved her to within one home run of the individual record set by Boone’s Natalie Sheffey last season.
Taylor Wright is close behind with 15 home runs, and Lingerfelt pointed out both players are sporting over a .500 batting average. Adding to the bounty, Cheyenne Delffs and Ashley Starnes each have six home runs.
Lingerfelt also had high praise for his defense with Laughren and Kaylee Nicholson handling most of the pitching duties. He also mentioned the efforts of catcher Ashley Starnes and third baseman Cierra Jackson.
Unicoi improved to 27-5-2 after the ET Classic championship. Their record indicates a couple of ties with Seymour and Bearden in a Knoxville tournament.
The matchup of Unicoi and Grainger, two teams likely to meet in the Region 1-AA playoffs, didn’t materialize due to the weather.
However, there was a matchup of host Science Hill and Cherokee, who could face off in the Region 1-AAA playoffs.
The Lady ‘Toppers (25-13) got the best of the Lady Chiefs 2-0 on Saturday as Vanessa Elliott pitched a four-hit shutout. Science Hill finished 3-1 in the tournament, with other shutout wins over Sullivan East and Sullivan North before dropping an 8-5 decision to Grainger.
“You look and there were some really competitive games,” Science Hill coach Jerry Higgins said. “I know they were good for us, especially playing Cherokee because that’s one we might see in the region. Grainger was a great team. It helped us getting in some games like those before the district tournament.”
Science Hill, much like Unicoi County and Daniel Boone, is blessed not to have one quality pitcher, but two with Elliott and all-tournament selection Emma Martindale.
“They alternate, other than Emma couldn’t pitch for a couple of weeks when she had a blister on her finger,” Higgins said. “I alternate them and it doesn’t matter who we’re playing. One gets the job done as well as the other gets the job done.”
More often than not Science Hill is also getting the job done at the plate. They have a .322 batting average as a team.
Megan Devotie and Sam Bradley are both hitting over .400 and Elliott isn’t far behind, hitting at a .376 clip. Hannah Devotie leads the team in three major categories befitting her lead-off spot -- walks, on-base percentage and runs scored.
Higgins has been pleased with the overall performance of the Lady ’Toppers, especially considering they lost four All-Big Eight Conference selections from last year’s team which set a school record with 40 wins.
“We’ve had a good year,” Higgins said. “It’s been a lot better than we expected after the graduation we had last year.”