Where the skies are so Lady Blue.
Sydney Miller, who joined the Unicoi County softball team for her senior season after moving from Alabama, cracked a two-run homer in the first inning that set the tone for the 5-2 win over Elizabethton on Wednesday.
With the Lady Blue Devils’ win came the Region 1-AA championship — after four previous losses to the Lady Cyclones this season — and home-field advantage for Saturday’s sectional contest against Kingston, where a state tournament berth will be on the line.
“All of those other games, but this is the one that counts,” said Unicoi head coach Grady Lingerfelt, whose team improved to 2-4 against Elizabethton this season. “Praise the Lord this worked out.”
Unicoi improved to 38-9 on the season. Saturday’s game has been scheduled for 1 p.m. Kingston lost 12-0 to Corryton Gibbs in the District 2-AA title game.
Elizabethton fell to 25-14 and will travel to play Gibbs on Friday.
The Unicoi County third baseman and No. 3 hitter in the lineup said she knew what to expect from Elizabethton pitcher Lauren Brickey, but doing something about it was a different animal.
“We’ve played them like a ‘gagillion’ times, so we knew she was going to throw that high outside pitch,” said Miller, who finished with three hits and three RBIs and was a double away from hitting for the cycle. “I worked my butt off, trying to make sure I could hit that pitch. I just went with it, and it happened.”
Miller’s blast came after Rylee Stiltner’s ringing single, and it went over the center field fence. It wasn’t the first time the Lady Blue Devils had jumped on Elizabethton this year, but this time they held on for the win.
“I was a little nervous,” said Miller. “We know they’re good at scoring runs and coming back, so we knew we had to go all out.”
Miller also spearheaded a defensive effort that kept Elizabethton from putting together a serious rally.
The Lady Blue Devils got a tremendous performance from Allee Griffith, who allowed just six hits and two runs, one earned, in the complete-game effort. She walked one and struck out three.
“The curveball was working tonight, and the changeup,” said Griffith. “I was throwing the changeup good tonight.”
Said Lingerfelt, “Allee pitched her heart out. She did quite well. She has all year.”
Perhaps it was meant for Miller to spend her senior year in Erwin because she has fit like a third baseman’s glove on this team.
“It’s great,” she said. “I came in and played with them this summer, and meshed really well with them. They all welcomed me here and really made my move a lot easier. And it feels really good to know I can help my team out.”
Said Lingerfelt, “She’s the most precious kid. She’s been a joy to have. She gets along with every single person on the team, and she leads by example, comes to work every day.”
The Lady Blue Devils increased their lead in the top of the third inning. Stiltner — who finished with three hits and scored twice — again started things with a single, and Miller drove her home with a triple down the right field line.
Tanya Chavez drove Miller in with a solid single to center to make it 4-0.
Brickey jumpstarted the Lady Cyclones with a line drive home run over the left field fence in the bottom of the sixth inning.
With two outs, Kira Dillard blooped a single into shallow left and tried to stretch it into a double. The throw sailed over the second baseman’s head and down the right field line. Dillard never stopped and raced all the way to home plate on the two-base error.
Chloe Powers and Halie Hawkins teamed up for the insurance run. Powers singled and went all the way to third when the ball got past the left fielder. Hawkins followed with a perfect bunt, scoring Powers and turning it into an RBI base hit when the Lady Cyclones couldn’t make a play on either runner.
“They had a good night at the plate,” said Lady Cyclones’ head coach Ken Hardin. “They hit it well, and they hit it early. We just couldn’t get the big hit at the right time. It is tough beating a great team like they are that many times.”
Brickey and Dillard each had two hits for the Lady Cyclones.