Johnson City Press Thursday, July 31, 2014

Sports High schools

Blue Devils too much for Elizabethton

March 31st, 2014 8:59 pm by Douglas Fritz

ELIZABETHTON — It's not like having your feet held to the fire if you have flame-retardant shoes.

Tiffany Laughren has been summoned to the circle many times in her career in difficult spots, and she came prepared once again Monday at Elizabethton's field. The Lady Blue Devils' junior minimized the damage, and then locked the Lady Cyclones down as Unicoi rallied for an 8-4 victory.

It was an important Three Rivers Conference win for Unicoi (5-0, 5-1) as it took over sole possession of first place while sending Elizabethton (4-1, 6-1) to its first loss of the season.

For Twitter videos of keys plays from the game, and a post-game interview with Laughren, follow Douglas Fritz at FritzBlitzzz.

With the score tied at 1-1 in the bottom of the third inning, Elizabethton loaded the bases on a pair of singles and an error. That brought Lady Cyclones' slugger Caley Hodge to the plate with the bases loaded and nobody out.

Hodge had already driven a core-unraveler over the left field fence to tie the game in the bottom of the second inning, and Unicoi's Kaylee Nicholson pitched very carefully in the delicate situation.

A perhaps semi-intentional walk forced in a run and gave Elizabethton a 2-1 lead. But then Nicholson also walked Destiny Poiroux to make it 3-1.

That's when Unicoi head coach Grady Lingerfelt opted to bring Laughren to the circle.

"She's got all kinds of confidence," Lingerfelt said.

Laughren admitted it wasn't an easy task.

"It was a little tough," said Laughren. "There was a lot of pressure. This was a big conference game, and we needed a win."

Laughren did surrender an RBI single to Lindsey Cunningham to make it 4-1, but worked her way out of the threat. Over the last four innings, Laughren did not allow a hit.

"I felt like I was hitting my spots," said Laughren. "I have a good team to back me up, and we had a good game today."

The Lady Blue Devils wasted little time getting those runs back. Hits by Nicholson, Cierra Jackson and Abby Hensley loaded the bases before Haley Webb dropped a single into left-center field to make it 4-3.

After a wild pitch, Grayson Goddard's bloop single scored two runs and put Unicoi ahead for good.

"In those spots in the lineup, those girls aren't power hitters, but they've got to produce for us, too," said Lingerfelt.

Cassie Foster loosened things up in the fifth inning, following Brooke Strother's double with an RBI single to make it 6-4.

Then Laughren and Destinie Hayes capped the win with back-to-back solo home runs in the top of the sixth inning. Laughren, who set a state record last season with 23 home runs — which was fourth all-time nationally — has two big flies so far this season. She finished 3 for 3 at the plate while Webb, Strother, Nicholson, Jackson and Hensley had two hits apiece. Unicoi finished with 15 hits to only five for Elizabethton.

Overall, Lingerfelt said he was pleased — especially considering this was just Unicoi's second game in two weeks because of weather issues.

"It's good to get this win, especially on the road," said Lingerfelt. 

A bright spot for the Lady Cyclones was the play of the infield. Elizabethton turned two double plays, and Danielle Loving was an Ozzie Smith-like wizard at shortstop.

"Danielle is a phenomenal athlete," said Lady Cyclones' head coach Leanne Click. "She always has been. With her and Madison (Weaver) on that side, it's like a vacuum cleaner.

"Overall I'm pleased with the way our team played. I can't complain. It was a good game, and it was intense with all of the fans. We've got two more shots at Unicoi, and the district is when it matters."

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