BY TATE RUSSELL, SUN SPORTS WRITER
ELIZABETHTON - Not even the Starship Enterprise can boast a more clutch and cool under pressure Captain Kirk than the one that North Greene baseball team sent onto the diamond Friday night.
Adam Kirk came on in relief to strike out the side in the eighth inning then laid down a perfect squeeze bunt in the ninth to help lead the Huskies to a 6-4 win over Unaka that clinched the District 1-A regular season championship.
North Greene improved to 18-3 overall and 7-0 in the league. They will play Unaka again, at home, on Monday, but that game will have not bearing on the final standings.
"I expected a tough ball game today," North Greene head coach Tim Lady said. "Unaka has a great tradition and a great program. They've owned the district for years, and we're just trying to step up and hold our own."
With one out in the ninth inning, Lady pulled Kirk to the side before he entered the batter's box and told him the squeeze was on. Troy Hall, coming from third, almost beat the ball to the plate as Kirk sent the pitch trickling down the first base line.
Tyler Bailey came all the way around to score from second on the play and gave North Greene a two-run cushion.
"The boys they just kept fighting and clawing and they never gave up," Lady said. "Even though they made some mistakes out there, these boys never gave up and I'm very proud of them for that."
The defense held strong in the bottom of the inning and the Huskies were able to walk away champions.
In the sixth inning, North Greene looked to have put the game away when Lady went with pinch-hitter Austin Holland. Holland responded by crushing a towering shot over the fence and into the Highway 91 to give the Huskies a 4-2 advantage.
"Austin's been struggling seeing the ball recently and so I started a lefthander instead of him today," Lady explained. "When we got back from the game last night and I told him we were starting someone else, he hit off the tee for about an hour and that work paid off for him today."
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Kirk erased any potential threat by the Rangers when he started a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.
Unaka pulled things even in the seventh inning when Taylor Edwards and Danny Bales sent back-to-back jacks over the centerfield wall. With the score even at 4-4, Lady called on Kirk to take over for Bailey on the mound.
Bailey went six innings and struck out seven in a very strong performance, especially considering he was battling walking pneumonia. He also went 4-5 at the plate for the Huskies.
Kirk was able to stagnate the Rangers' surge and Hall ended the inning by turning a pop fly to first into a double play.
After the Huskies were unable to push a run across in the eighth, the pressure was on their defense to hold strong. Kirk decided to take it out of the defense's hands by striking out the side to give his team one more chance to win before the sun went down and halted the contest.
"I was nervous but I had to do it," Kirk said. "That's my job. I'm a senior and I had to step up for the team."
Brett Bolton started the scoring for North Greene in the first inning when he drove in Bailey on a double to centerfield. Kirk knocked in Bolton from third on a drive to left field that gave North Greene an early 2-0 lead.
Thomas Hardin equalized for Unaka in the same inning when he sent a single to right that scored Edwards and Bales.
Hall put another run on the board for North Greene in the third inning after he reached base on an error. Bailey moved him to third and he was scored by Bolton. The Huskies looked to do more damage in the inning as they put runners on second and third with no outs, but Hardin was able to work out of the jam for Unaka.
Hardin threw seven innings for the Rangers, striking out seven and walking four. Johnathan Wright took the loss, throwing the final two innings and giving up two runs.
Kirk earned the win with three innings of work. He struck out three, walked one, hit one and gave up no runs.