Ben Jackson hit a RBI single in the sixth inning and a pair of Cloudland throwing errors followed to allow the Junior Bucs to escape with an 11-7 victory in the District 1-A baseball tournament at Cardinal Park on Saturday evening.
It appeared the Junior Bucs (11-16) were cruising to an easy win over the winless Highlanders after scoring six runs in the bottom of the first inning. Their first five runs came off two wild pitches, two RBI walks and a RBI ground out.
However, the Highlanders weren’t ready to go away without a fight.
Cloudland scored two runs in the second, one in the third and two in the fourth to take a 7-6 lead. UH ralled with a RBI ground out by Luke Willoughby to tie the game in the fifth and then had the big sixth to truly survive and advance.
“We came into this game maybe overconfident,” University High coach Josh Petty said. “We hit lazy flyballs and did everything I told them not when we talked before the game.”
After the Junior Bucs lost 3-1 to North Greene earlier in the day, an upset loss would have meant the end of the season. It called for desperate measures. Petty called Jackson back on the mound for four innings after he pitched all seven innings against North Greene.
“Normally, I wouldn’t throw a guy like that,” Petty said. “He ended up throwing 123 pitches in both games. But I knew he was a senior, and he would be terribly upset if he still had innings left out there and we went home with a loss.”
In other games: Unaka defeated South Greene 4-0, while Hampton knocked out South Greene 8-7 in a late elimination game.
Cloudland showed it meant business early when Noah Arnett and Matt Houston scored off a UH error for a 2-0 lead. Arnett added a two-run triple for the Highlanders the next inning and Cloudland closed to 6-5 on Curtis Hitchew’s bases-loaded walk. A RBI triple by Jonah Woods in the fourth tied the game before the Highlanders pulled ahead on Nathan Hicks’ fielders choice.
Adding to the surprise, Cloudland was without three starters and its No. 1 reliever.
“The guys that were here, they played their hearts out,” Cloudland coach Kevin Kendall said. “I’ve been looking for senior leadership all year and today I had it from 1 (Hitchew) and 44 (Alex Heaton). Hitchew starts off catching and has a long inning. Then, he comes in and pitches his hind-end off. We had a couple of miscues from inexperienced players, but I was proud of them. I thought we had a chance to win, and for the first time the players were like, ‘Who are we going to play next?’ Credit UH, we didn’t throw it away, they beat us, but I was so proud of my boys.”
Brinkley Mull ended 2-for-4, while Arnett ended 2-for-5 with the two RBIs. Hitchew just allowed three hits in the loss.
Nick Walley led University High with two singles and a walk. Still, the Junior Bucs were able to take advantage of the Cloudland miscues.
Jackson scored three runs, while Logan Metcalf, Nick Sewell and Walley all scored twice. Luke Willoughby provided two RBIs.
Unaka 4, South Greene 0
Thomas Hardin didn’t let a little thing like a swollen left knee slow him down.
The Unaka pitcher cut up his knee trying to slide into home plate on a wild pitch in top of the third inning. He stayed in the game the rest of the way, completing a four-hitter even after the knee swelled up and turned pink.
He also ended 2-for-4 at the plate with a RBI.
“I just fought through it and trusted my teammates,” Hardin said. “I let them do most of the work honestly.”
The Rangers (16-15) did plenty in the field. It included turning two double plays and Abram Hill firing a shot from right field for a 9-2 out at home in the sixth inning. That along, with lead-off batter Eli Rasnick going 3-for-3, and also reaching base a fourth time with a walk, led to Unaka head coach Tee Blevins to call it the best performance of the season.
“That’s great when your lead-off can on base like that,” Blevins said. “Eli started us off early, getting on base. We moved him over and scored a run. That kind of set the tone for the whole game.
“Thomas, he’s been workhorse all year. I feel comfortable having the game in his hands, even when he isn’t 100 percent. He battled through it and gave us a chance to win.”
Hardin belted a RBI single in the first inning to score Rasnick, who in turn had a RBI triple to score Jeffrey Yerkes in the fourth. Taylor Edwards reached base on a single to start the fifth inning and then added a third run for the Rangers, scoring off a wild pitch. Tyler Carrier scored on a balk in the sixth for the game’s final run.
Caleb Shaw suffered the loss for the Rebels, who loaded the bases in the fifth inning and had runners reach third base two other innings. Logan Tweed went 2-for-3 to lead South Greene offensively.
North Greene 3, University High 1
Tyler Bailey struck out the first eight batters he faced and 15 batters overall to lead the Huskies (26-4) over the Junior Bucs in Saturday’s opening game.
Bailey had a no-hitter going through 6 1/3 innings before it was broken up by Logan Metcalf’s double. University High ended the shutout bid a batter later when Luke Willoughby’s grounder went through the second baseman’s legs.
Bailey (8-1) gave up just one hit and one walk to go along with his: 15 strikeouts. He also accounted for the first run a RBI on a 5-3 ground out to score Zane Britton.
“Tyler has been the man for us,” North Greene head coach Tim Lady said. “We had to have his performance today because we were a little flat coming out. Even though we were the No. 1 seed, if we had lost that game, it wouldn’t have been any better than being a No. 5 or No. 6 seed. That was a big performance by Tyler and we had to have it.”
The Huskies tacked on two runs with two outs in the sixth off RBI singles by Brett Bolton and Zak Potter.
Ben Jackson, who gave up six hits, suffered the loss for the Junior Bucs.
North Greene will play at 7 p.m. Monday night.
Hampton 8, South Greene 7
The Bulldogs (15-13) built and blew a seven-run lead, only to see the Rebels (10-12) rally and tie.
Jeffrey Hughis scored the winning run for Hampton in the sixth innning. Tyler Hobbs and David Finney each ended 2-for-4 for the Bulldogs, while Anthony Oliver had two RBIs and Eli Robinson contributed a RBI double.
Dylan Years and Manny Aleantara each had a pair of RBIs to lead South Greene.
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