The result? A district championship.
The Cyclones answered Unicoi County’s challenge, quickly erasing a deficit and working their way to a 7-1 win in the title game of the District 1-AA tournament at TVA Credit Union Ballpark on Tuesday.
It was the second straight district title for Elizabethton, which also won back-to-back crowns in 2006-07.
“It has been very intentional,” said Cyclones’ head coach Ryan Presnell. “From the time we left Pigeon Forge’s field last year, we knew what we needed to do. We talked for two hours on the bus coming back, and the staff met for five hours the next day. This was on purpose and this was planned.”
The Cyclones improved to 23-8 and earned home-field advantage for Monday’s region semifinal against the District 2-AA runner-up.
Unicoi, which qualified for the region with a 9-3 win over Sullivan East in Tuesday’s first game, fell to 20-14 and will travel to face the District 2-AA champion.
Elizabethton hit some shots in building its three-run fourth inning. Matthew Dailey’s hard grounder to left field plated the first run. Nick Johnson added a sacrifice fly, and Ethan Eggleston followed with a line-drive RBI single to left to make it 3-1.
The Cyclones added another run in the fifth inning before hitting Unicoi with another three spot in the sixth.
Eight different Cyclones had one hit apiece, and Evan Cater led with two RBIs.
Elizabethton got two solid innings from starter Matthew Dailey, who struck out four batters. He was followed by Lawson Wagner, who earned the win by closing it out with five innings and getting five strikeouts.
“How about Lawson Wagner?” said Presnell. “Just a junior who goes out there and battles. I’m so proud of him.”
Elizabethton Shortstop Corey Russell was selected as the tournament’s most valuable player. He said the Cyclones just came in confident.
“We knew we could do what we did out there today,” said Russell. “We showed what we can do, played good all together, and hit the ball good. We’ve been working all year, all season, trying to get to this point. Everybody in our lineup is confident.”
Joining Russell from the Cyclones were Tre Shoun, Logan Estep and Ethan Eggleston.
Caleb Wilson, Hunter Higgins and Keaton Casey earned spots for Unicoi County.
For Sullivan East, Hudson Standbridge and Elias Arnold were honored. Sullivan South’s Drew Creech was also on the team.
Unicoi got on the board first, scratching out a run in the top of the fourth inning. Peyton Whitson singled and Brett Strother followed by beating out an infield hit. After a sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third, Ramon Avila got an RBI by executing a safety-squeeze bunt — pushing the ball toward the first baseman and plating Whitson.
Unicoi County 9, Sullivan East 3
Caterpillar on Monday. Butterfly on Tuesday.
Chad Gillis said it’s hard to know which Unicoi County baseball team will show up for a given game. The Blue Devils’ head coach was glad to see the cocoon break free for the District 1-AA losers’ bracket final.
Unicoi — which lost 11-0 to Elizabethton in six innings Monday — improved to 20-13. The loss was a season-ender for Sullivan East (17-13).
It was like night and day for the Blue Devils.
“It was an easy game to come out and roll over, after taking a beating last night,” said Gillis. “But I felt like we responded well. I really didn’t know what to think at the fieldhouse, but when they showed up they were ready to go and did everything we could ask.”
Owen Nicholson ignited a firecracker in the bottom of the first inning. He crushed a pitch to dead center field and never took it out of high gear. With a headfirst slide, he crossed the plate with an inside-the-park homer.
“As soon as I hit it, I realized it was over (the center fielder’s) head,” said Nicholson. “But I didn’t realize I was going to be able to go home at all. I was busting it going from third to home. I knew I had to, or I was going to get roasted.”
Clay Simpson doubled and scored on Brett Strother’s single to make it 2-0.
The Blue Devils added two runs in the second inning, and eventually built their lead to 9-0.
Unicoi County needed a lift to keep its season alive and Keaton Casey was ready and willing. He pitched out of tough spots, overcoming nine walks and two hit batters and carrying a shutout into the sixth inning. He surrendered only two hits and made good use of a pair of nicely turned double plays — one of them was the 1-6-3 variety.
“The double plays had an amazing impact,” said Casey. “Got us some good clean out and got us out of here quick. I was just thinking throw strikes. I was a little nervous, but I hit my spots and got the job done.”
Hunter Higgins was at the head of the hitting class for the Blue Devils. He had three hits, two of them doubles. He also drove in four runs.
For Sullivan East, Dylan White had a two-run double.