ERWIN — If Brandon Garland ever opens a dude ranch, surely its name will be Capital K.
Unicoi County's impressive freshman left-hander littered the scorebook with the letter that stands for strikeouts, racking up 17 in a dominant one-hitter against Grainger — a 2-0 win by the Blue Devils — in the Region 1-AA baseball semifinals Monday night.
“He was just phenomenal,” said Unicoi head coach Charlie Baxter. “Overpowering. You can't ask for anything more.”
It was a game that started at 7:30 p.m. and ended at 11:45 — thanks mainly to a two hour and 15 minute rain delay.
Improving to 27-7, the Blue Devils moved into Wednesday's championship game against Sullivan South at 7:30 p.m. The Rebels (23-10) shocked Greeneville by overcoming an 8-0 deficit to earn a 10-9 victory.
Unicoi and South also earned berths in Friday's sectional round.
Garland got off to a hot start, posting six strikeouts in the first two innings. However, with one out in the third inning, the skies opened up and it appeared the game might not be completed until the next day.
That left Baxter in a bit of a tough spot with his young lefty on the mound.
“I'm glad the storm moved out when it did because it would have been hard for (Garland) to come back (Tuesday),” said Baxter. “He was just tossing lightly to stay loose during the delay, and we kicked around some different ideas. But he ate something, and when he warmed back up he said it felt like he hadn't thrown.”
Garland never seemed to miss a beat, striking out two of the first three batters he faced after the delay and then striking out the side in the fourth inning.
There were two trouble spots later in the game as Grainger advanced a runner to third base in both the fifth and sixth innings. Each time, Garland dialed up a K-maker.
“I was just trying to do what I've been taught: throw strikes and concentrate on the mit,” said Garland. “My fastball was the best I had today. It was working, it was moving, and I could spot it very well.”
For Garland (7-1) to get the win, he needed some offensive help. Ethan Rice took care of that by reaching on a hit by pitch in the first inning, and a walk in the fifth inning.
Each time, Rice came around to score. The first one was on Sam McInturff's RBI single, and the second was an aggressive baserunning move as Rice scored from second base on an infield error.
“We just tried to get on any way we could,” said Rice. “We were aggressive on the base paths. The big thing was doing the little things. We only scored two runs, but with Brandon's performance we only needed one.”
Garland walked four batters in the game, and out-dueled Grainger starter Corey Bates. Also a lefty, Bates went the distance and allowed four hits with five walks and 10 strikeouts.
Bates pitched himself into trouble in the bottom of the first inning. Rice was hit by a pitch, Connor Simpson drew a one-out walk, and with two outs Ryan Lingerfelt drew a walk.
That brought McInturff to the plate. He ripped a hard ground-ball single, scoring Rice. Simpson also tried to score on the play, but Grainger center fielder Zach Long nailed him at the plate for the third out.