ELIZABETHTON -- Known for its hitting, Unicoi County relied heavily on its pitching and defense to earn a 6-1 win over Happy Valley in Friday’s District 1-AA softball tournament at Elizabethton High School.
Junior right-hander Kalee Nicholson scattered eight hits and gave up just one walk to pick up the win.
“I thought we played well defensively and made some plays,” said Unicoi County coach Grady Lingerfelt, whose team improved to 30-5. “They hit the ball, but we caught it. We made some plays and she pitched a good game.”
Another junior, Elizabethton catcher Caley Hodge, blasted a three-run home run to lead the host Lady Cyclones to a 12-2 win over Sullivan North in the nightcap.
In Unicoi’s win, Tiffany Laughren had a triple in the first inning and then scored off a passed ball for the game’s first run. Cheyenne Delffs had a RBI single to score Jessica Presser in the second inning for a 2-0 lead.
It was the only lead Nicholson had through five and a half innings. Throwing five strikeouts, the junior right-hander improved to 17-3 after the win.
“The defense backed me up really well,” Nicholson said. “Our hitting was good throughout the whole game. Then I had the riseball as the main strikeout pitch. If I got any strikeouts, that was what it was with.”
Happy Valley (12-20) missed a key opportunity to cut the margin to one run in the top of the sixth. Brooke Simmons led off with a triple, but the Lady Warriors couldn’t get the run in.
The Lady Devils made them pay in the bottom of the inning with four runs, which included RBI doubles by Brooke Strother and Chelsea Gardner and a RBI single by Delffs.
The Lady Warriors finally got on the scoreboard in the top of the seventh after Sydney Puckett led off the inning with a single and later scored on an error.
“I’m very proud of the girls,” Happy Valley coach Mike Dorsey said. “We just couldn’t push across that run we needed to get us started and to get them worried.”
Delffs led Unicoi, going 3-for-4 with two RBIs. Although the Lady Devils had nine hits overall, Delffs was the only one with multiple hits against Happy Valley’s freshman Kenzie Davis who came in relief of fellow freshman Kalee Johnson in the first inning.
Davis was one of three Lady Warriors to go 2-for-3 at the plate, along with Simmons and Puckett.
Elizabethton 12, Sullivan North 2
Caley Hodge went 3-for-3, including a monster home run over left field in third inning to lead the Lady Cyclones (21-10) to the win over the Lady Raiders (4-24).
Swinging hard every time at the plate, Hodge ended with four RBIs and three runs scored.
“I went over to coach (LeeAnn) Click and she said, ‘If that first pitch is pretty, you take it,’” Hodge said. “I waited back, got my hands back for a little leverage. I didn’t even know it was over. I thought it was a line drive.”
It was well over the fence, although Hodge had a pair of hard-hit line drives for her other two hits.
The Cyclones had 11 hits from seven different players, which included winning pitcher Lindsey Cunningham and Emily Dugger both 2-for-3 at the plate.
Still, Elizabethton got off to a relatively slow start, up just 1-0 before Hodge’s home run in the third.
From there, the Lady Cyclones were on their way with two runs in the fourth and six in the fifth.
“When the going gets tough, they put the bat on the ball,” Click said. “We’re a great hitting team. It sets us up for a big game on Monday.”
North scored both of its runs in the top of the fourth. Shaya Fortner and Logan Blakely had back-to-back doubles, followed by a single by Tosha Fair and a fielder’s choice RBI by Taylor Breeding. Blakely finished 2-for-3 with a RBI to lead the Lady Raiders.
As their coach alluded to, the Lady Cyclones’ win sets up a winners’ bracket showdown with Unicoi County on Monday.
“Whoever wins Monday, it’s straight to the championship and you’ve got to be beat twice,” Click said. “It’s definitely a positive for us. We’re in a good spot so we’re excited.”
Sullivan East 12, Johnson County 4
The Lady Patriots (19-19) scored 10 runs over the first three innings to win the elimination game over the Lady Longhorns (14-17).
“They came out ready to play,” East head coach Tommy Forrester said. “We hit and I thought we totally dominated the game. I thought all year we were a region team and we’re putting ourselves in a pretty good spot.”
Sullivan East pounded out 14 hits with Madeline Standbridge going 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs.
Winning pitcher Courtney Leonard was 3-for-5 with two RBIs, while Brittany Scott, Rachel Stidham and Lexy Umburger all ended 2-for-4.
Johnson County played to the end, scoring four runs over the final four innings and finishing with 10 hits.
“They’re not going to quit,” Johnson County coach Dana Smith said. “They would run through a fence for me if I asked.”
Ashley Arnold led the Lady Longhorns, going 3-for-4 with a RBI and two runs scored. Losing pitcher Hope Nelson finished 3-for-4 with a RBI.
The loss meant the final game for four Johnson County seniors -- Arnold, Haley Miller, Linnea Yongue and Kirsten Roark.
East will play North at 5 p.m. Monday in a loser’s bracket elimination game.