MILLIGAN COLLEGE — Happy Valley is no longer taking baby steps.
The Warriors pulled off a major upset, knocking off top-seeded Unicoi County 3-2 in the winners' bracket semifinals of the District 1-AA baseball tournament at Anglin Field on Saturday.
“I told the guys we would be the only ones who thought we could do this,” said Happy Valley head coach Caleb Moore. “The only thing that matters is the 16 guys on this team. As long as we believe, it can happen.”
Improving to 17-13 on the season, the Warriors will take on second-seeded Elizabethton in today's winners' bracket final at 4 o'clock. The Cyclones (23-10) made two dramatic comebacks to knock off Sullivan East 9-8 in eight innings.
Meanwhile, Unicoi County (21-6) lost for the third time in four games, and will be off until Monday for the losers' bracket semifinal.
Unicoi starting pitcher Austin Green probably deserved a better fate, carrying a no-hitter into the sixth inning and finishing with a complete-game two-hitter. However, on this day Happy Valley left-hander Joe Arnold was a little better.
Arnold worked six impressive innings, and Unicoi rarely made solid contact.
“It wasn't me, it was the defense backing me up,” said Arnold. “I just listened to my coaches and changed speeds a lot.”
Arnold allowed only three hits and one run with one walk and four strikeouts.
“He threw his tail off,” said Moore.
Happy Valley needed a sparkling defensive play to close out the win. Correy Garland came on to relieve Arnold, and eventually got touched for a ringing two-out RBI double by Michael Kiernan. That brought Austin Garrabrant to the plate, and he drilled one up the middle.
However, second baseman Camen Wilder made a diving catch to secure the win.
“I knew (Garrabrant) squared it up,” said Moore. “But Camen is a great defensive player, and he came through again.”
Happy Valley got just two hits against Green, but took advantage of a walk, sacrifice bunt, passed ball and sacrifice fly to tie the game at 1-1 in the top of the fifth inning.
In the sixth inning the Warriors got a leadoff single from Arnold, and he eventually scored on Colton Haun's single. A passed ball and wild pitch allowed Haun to score for a 3-1 lead.
Green (7-3) gave up three runs, but just one was earned. He walked one and struck out eight.
At the plate, Green was the only Unicoi player with two hits and he scored both runs.
“We didn't adjust to their pitcher, and we didn't hit when we needed to,” said Blue Devils' head coach Charlie Baxter. “He did a good job of keeping us off stride and making good pitches.”