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Cyclones fight off elimination with two victories

Douglas Fritz • Updated May 23, 2018 at 10:29 PM

MURFREESBORO — It wasn’t a home run, but it was basically a game-winner.

And Elizabethton is still in the hunt for a Class AA state baseball championship.

Evan Carter crushed a line drive to center field with a runner on second in the top of the 10th inning. The slicing ball got past the center fielder and all the way to wall with Carter eventually scoring on the play. The Cyclones added another run and left Smyrna’s field with an 8-5 victory over Stewart County in the losers’ bracket final Wednesday.

Cyclones’ head coach Ryan Presnell said it was the first 10-inning game he’s been involved in at the high school level.

Elizabethton improved to 28-9 and moved into the Upper Bracket championship round against Decatur County Riverside. The Cyclones would need to beat Riverside (26-9) twice to advance to Friday’s overall state championship contest. Game one against Riverside is set for Thursday at 3 p.m.

“We’re going to come out and play hard, brother,” said Presnell. “I can guarantee that. I think you saw that tonight. We’re going to scrap. We know what we’re up against. We’re good in this heat. We’ve trained in the heat. We’ve practiced in the heat.

“And we’re going to come out tomorrow and play for a chance to play for the state championship.”

In Wednesday’s losers’ bracket semifinal, the TSSAA credited Elizabethton with a three-pitcher, five-inning no-hitter despite a game-ending play that should have been ruled a hit. The outcome of the game wasn’t in doubt as the Cyclones beat Grundy County, 12-0.

The big play

Ryan Wetzel set the stage for Carter by beating out an infield hit. He then caught the Rebels napping and went to second base on the play.

Presnell said he couldn’t reveal what Wetzel saw that allowed him to reach second.

“I can’t tell you,” said Presnell. “It’s a secret of the business.”

Wetzel said there was no doubt he was going to try to score on Carter’s hit.

“There were two outs, so I knew I was going for it,” said Wetzel. “It was a big hit from Evan, and it just happened to work out great.”

Carter said it was a fastball right down the middle.

“I knew as soon as I hit it that Ryan was going to get home,” said Carter. “I guess it was icing on the cake for me to get all the way home. That’s the fastest I’ve ever run before.”

After Carter’s big hit, Evan Perkins doubled over the head of the center fielder to plate Corey Russell, who had singled.

Finishing

Russell got the Rebels in order in the bottom of the 10th. He pitched 5 1/3 innings of relief, allowing three hits and one run with two walks and three strikeouts in his first extensive action of the postseason.

Striking first

Elizabethton took a 1-0 advantage on the strength of Jacob Mullins’ RBI single in the second inning. The Cyclones made it 2-0 on Dailey’s third-inning RBI double.

Russell gave the Cyclones a big lead with a two-run single in the fourth inning to make it 4-0.

Coming back

Stewart County got two in the fourth and two in the fifth to tie the game, and things stayed knotted until the top of the eighth. Russell hit a line drive that was dropped by the center fielder with two outs, scoring Ethan Eggleston for a 5-4 lead.

But the Rebels came back. Payton Milliken hit an RBI single to tie the game, but Logan Beecham was thrown out at the plate by Cyclones’ right fielder Jacob Mullins. With two outs and runners on the corners, the Rebels tried the double steal. But Russell turned and fired to third to pick the runner off and end the inning.

Standouts

Eggleston was 4 for 6 while Russell had three hits. Wetzel, Carter, Perkins, Dailey and Mullins each had two hits. The Cyclones had 18 hits as a team and left 12 runners on base.

Cyclones 12, Grundy 0

Elizabethton’s no-hitter was left in question, but the Cyclones got what they wanted.

And assistant coach Joe Diaz got a pregame bonus when his wife gave birth to child No. 4, a baby girl named Piper.

Responding to the tough walk-off loss to Stewart County 12 hours earlier, the Cyclones blasted Grundy County in the losers’ bracket semifinal.

Dominant pitching

Tre Shoun worked the first three innings and was followed for 1 2/3 innings by Karson Dillard. Colton Miller came in to throw one pitch for the final out.

But how it happened was the problem.

Jacob Thomas was hit by Evan Jaynes’ ground ball between shortstop and third base, and was called out. According to the rulebook, when a runner is struck by a batted ball before being touched by a fielder, he is out and the batter is awarded a base hit.

Still, Presnell said he was touched by Shoun’s willingness to come off the mound after three innings — and just 24 pitches — with a 6-0 lead and a no-hitter intact.

“It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make to pull a kid out,” said Presnell. “At state with a no-hitter, that kid committed (to the team). He said, ‘Coach, there’s something bigger at play.’ He thought about the team over himself.”

At the plate

Evan Perkins had a big hand in the offensive assault. He went 3 for 4 with three RBIs. Nick Johnson also had three RBIs. Matthew Dailey had three walks and scored twice.

The Cyclones struck for two runs in the first inning, four in the third, and five in the fourth.

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