MILLIGAN COLLEGE — Nothing like a little Blue Thunder to break up another rainy day — and continue a three-decade tradition.
On a field that saw zero home runs during Milligan College's baseball season and through eight games of the District 1-AA tournament, Unicoi County blasted two long balls on the way to a 12-3 victory over Happy Valley in the losers' bracket final at Anglin Field on Tuesday night.
Jonathan Davis and Hunter Burnett each went deep as Unicoi County (23-6) earned a berth in the region tournament for the 29th time in the last 30 years.
Blue Devils' head coach Charlie Baxter said his players' approach to the game makes the postseason success worthwhile.
“It certainly means a lot to me,” said Baxter. “Continuing to play like that, I find it very rewarding. I don't think I could stay in it and the players not have that attitude.
“It's more fun that way. They don't come to hang out. They come to do their best, and I really appreciate that attitude.”
The Blue Devils moved into the championship round, where Elizabethton (24-10) awaits. Today's game is scheduled for 6 p.m. A second game, if necessary, is slated for Friday.
Happy Valley (17-15) saw its season come to a close.
To earn the region berth after Saturday's upset loss to Happy Valley, the Blue Devils first needed a win over Sullivan East on Tuesday. Jonathan Davis helped deliver that one with a 15-strikeout performance on the mound in a rain-shortened six-inning contest.
Davis couldn't pitch Wednesday, but he could help with his bat. He slugged a solo home run in the bottom of the first inning to tie the game at 1-1.
Baxter said Davis carried over the momentum from Tuesday's good performance.
“He was still fired up today and feeling good,” said Baxter.
Davis finished with two hits and two RBIs.
“I knew since I pitched yesterday, I just had to hit today,” said Davis, who added his fastball was the key to Tuesday's big strikeout performance.
Austin Green was a big part of this win. He went the distance on the mound, allowing eight hits with one walk and seven strikeouts for his eighth win of the season.
“My location was off a little,” said Green. “I just had to come in with the mindset of winning this game.”
Said Baxter, “Austin really did battle. He probably pitched better the first day in the tournament because he was more fresh. Today was more guts, and he did a great job.”
Green also stood out at the plate, getting three hits and driving in two runs.
Ryan Lingerfelt added two doubles for the Blue Devils, who produced seven extra-base hits.
Happy Valley got two hits each from Joe Arnold and Conner Campbell. Starting pitcher Hunter Townsend, who controlled Unicoi's bats earlier in the tournament, gave up three hits and three runs, two earned, in three innings.
Warriors' head coach Caleb Moore said he was proud, but not satisfied with his team.
“As a competitor I don't make it a successful season unless we take it all the way,” said Moore. “If you don't have that vision, it's not worth it.
“I never doubted the kids' effort. We've just got to stay focused. That's where the errors come from.”
The Warriors made five errors in the game.
Happy Valley struck first, manufacturing a run in the top of the first inning with a Arnold's infield hit, a throwing error, a stolen base, and Townsend's sacrifice fly.
However, Davis stepped up in the bottom of the first and ended the Anglin Field drought with a towering home run down the left field line.
Davis got right back in the mix in the third inning. After a run scored on a wild pitch, Davis drove a double down the right right field line, scoring Ethan Rice who was on first base but hustled all the way around to make it 3-1. A fourth run scored on an error.
Happy Valley stayed within shouting distance on Chance Street's two-out RBI single in the fourth inning, making it 4-2.
However, Unicoi broke the game open in the fifth inning with five runs. Burnett highlighted the inning by launching a high fly ball to left field that never lost its legs, easily clearing the left-center field fence for a 9-2 Blue Devils' lead.
Unicoi tacked on three more runs in the sixth with Lingerfelt and Green producing their back-to-back doubles for a second straight inning.
Green said the Blue Devils have to adapt with their top two pitchers likely unavailable for today's game.
“We've got to have other guys step up,” said Green. “If we bring the bats like today, we will be OK.”