In the end, Unicoi County escaped with a thrilling 4-2 decision Sunday over Cherokee in 12 innings, capping off the most dramatic championship game in tournament history.
Unicoi County’s Kara Woods and Cherokee’s Whitney Gilbert engaged in an amazing pitcher’s duel. Entering the final, Gilbert had yet to give up a run in the tournament while Woods had yet to lose a start all season.
In short, something had to give. It turned out to be Gilbert’s scoreless streak as the Lady Blue Devils came out on top.
“It was a good ballgame,” Unicoi coach Grady Lingerfelt said. “I thought both pitchers pitched really well. Kara was really sharp after throwing late last night and three (games) today.”
For nine innings, the duo was virtually unhittable. Woods retired 20 batters in a row at one point, while Gilbert didn’t allow a batter to advance past first base.
Once the international tiebreaker rule kicked in following the seventh inning, however, the scoring opportunities started to pick up.
Unicoi County (20-0) struck first in the top of the 10th inning when Whitney Webb scored from second on a scoring error.
But Cherokee (14-5) quickly turned the tables after Lindsee Price hit an RBI single to tie the game at 1. With the bases loaded and nobody out, it appeared the Lady Chiefs were on the verge of winning the championship until Woods induced a pair of infield popups, the second leading to an inning-ending double play.
Unicoi County’s senior catcher Whitley Hensley was impressed with the way Woods kept her cool.
“I’m so proud of her,” Hensley said. “With her being a sophomore, I think she handled the pressure really well. The pressure got worse with every pitch, I thought.”
After trading runs again in the 11th, the Lady Devils plated two in the 12th as Woods and Ali Gardner each came up with RBI singles. Cherokee went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the frame to bring an end to the marathon contest.
“To win this tournament is something else,” Lingerfelt said. “We haven’t done that in quite a while. I think we’re in pretty good shape — I think we can make a run at state.”
Woods (18-0) gave up just four hits and two earned runs in 12 innings of work. She struck out 12 batters and only walked a pair.
Gilbert (13-5) also went 12 innings, fanning 12 batters as well. She surrendered just three earned, seven hits and one walk. Gilbert said her team will use the game as a valuable learning experience.
“We kind of have a knack for that — we like to follow behind but we need to just go ahead and get the runs like Unicoi did,” she said. “They got the advantage and did what they needed to do.”
The top eight teams in the tournament as well as three teams from Virginia received just over $3,700 from tournament sponsors Action Athletics, BB&T-KDC Insurance Services, The Regional Eye Center, Palace Vending and Coca-Cola Bottling of Johnson City.
Unicoi County received $550, while Cherokee took home $500.