With Jack Bembry pitching a two-hitter and Cas Blevins socking two extra-base hits, the visiting Buccaneers defeated the Yellow Jackets 7-4 in a Class A sectional baseball game.
As a result, UH (23-11) will play in the state tournament for the first time since 2002. Asked if he saw that type of potential in his team before the season started, Bucs coach Josh Petty said yes.
“I would be naive to say this wasn’t a very achievable goal,” Petty said. “And anything less would have been a disappointment to my players and my seniors. Saying that, we’ve tried all year to keep the guys loose and not make any game bigger than the next one, and we did that with the one today.”
Lookout Valley wrapped up its season with a 26-9 record.
Just two of the runs scored against Bembry were earned. He racked up eight strikeouts against three walks in a clutch 98-pitch performance versus the Region 2 champion.
Blevins homered and doubled in a 2-for-4 effort. Carter Pollock was 2 for 4 with a pair of runs, Jakob Hare contributed a two-run homer and Michael Degennero connected for a late two-run double.
“We went down (Friday) night,” Petty said. “We didn’t want to drive the day of the game, and we practiced down there at a local high school. We got up this morning, took some (batting practice), went over and got ready.
“As far as the game goes, we got home runs from Cas Blevins and Jakob Hare at real pivotal times in the game. Of course, Jack Bembry gave us a good game. He had one bad inning where he walked a guy, I think, and just some weird stuff happened.”
With the Bucs trailing 3-2, Blevins unloaded a solo round-tripper in the top of the fifth.
“Cas hit a nicely timed home run to get us tied,” Petty said, “and try to get momentum moving back in our direction. And it did.”
An inning later, Brant Hare produced an RBI groundout before an error enabled Degennero to scamper home for a two-run UH advantage.
Christian Sexton lofted a sacrifice fly in the lower end of the sixth, making it a 5-4 game. However, a two-out, seventh-inning double by Degennero knocked in A.J. Simerly and Pollock.
Simerly (2 runs, 2 stolen bases) had gotten aboard on a hit-by-pitch. Pollock banged out a single before Degennero’s hit exploited a defensive shift.
“They were playing their right fielder in right-center, almost left of right-center, almost all game,” Petty said. “They robbed us of a couple of a doubles. Degennero hits a routine fly ball to right field, I look up and there’s nobody there. The ball drops, A.J. Simerly comes in from third and Carter Pollock scores all the way from first base.
“We had a three-run cushion and from that point — I knew with the way Jack had been pitching — I felt pretty good the game was well in hand.”
Indeed. The bottom of the seventh was a three-up, three-down inning for Bembry — sending UH into celebration mode.
Jakob Hare swatting a third-inning home run put the Bucs on top 2-0, but Lookout Valley immediately answered with three runs — scoring two on Zane Howard’s double.
That was Bembry’s only rough patch as the Yellow Jackets couldn’t catch up to his lively fastball.
“He had only one inning that wasn’t a clean inning,” Petty said. “Their coach did a good job. Jack’s a real slow pitcher (in regards to) timing. Their coach had his players calling timeouts — and the umps were granting it — to get him out of his rhythm. We had to call a couple of timeouts to settle him down and get him back in rhythm. Once he did, he was dominant.”
Joshua Ibach had the other Yellow Jackets hit. UH collected a half-dozen hits en route to the fifth state berth in school history.
“I’m just real proud of my seniors,” Petty said. “I have eight of them this year that will leave this program. This was something special to them, and they made a point of saying we’re not going down there just to be happy — we’re going down there to win some ballgames.”
Joining the Bucs in Murfreesboro will be Northeast Tennessee neighbors Science Hill and Elizabethton. The last time there were three NET teams in the state was 1992 with Dobyns-Bennett, Unicoi County and UH.
Awaiting UH in opening-round play of the double-elimination tournament is highly touted Loretto (31-2). The two teams meet Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. (EDT) at Middle Tennessee Christian School.
Blevins is scheduled to make the pitching start.