KINGSPORT — Pitching around Will Craig with the bases loaded can’t be a grand plan. But not doing it can be a grand slam.
Science Hill’s 6-foot-3, 212-pound senior approached the plate Tuesday at J. Fred Johnson Stadium with the bases loaded, no outs and the Hilltoppers trailing Dobyns-Bennett 5-2 in the top of the seventh inning.
After taking the first pitch for a ball, Craig lined a 1-0 slider over the left field fence to lift the Hilltoppers to a 6-5 Big Eight Conference victory.
It was the second time in two weeks that Science Hill (6-0, 17-3) rallied from a late three-run deficit against D-B (5-2, 13-3). Craig delivered an RBI walk-off double in the bottom of the eighth in the previous meeting at Cardinal Park after the Indians had taken a three-run lead into the bottom of the sixth.
“Anytime you’ve got Will Craig in your lineup I guess you’re never out of it,” Science Hill coach Ryan Edwards said. “And I’ll be honest, they definitely wouldn’t pitch to him if they didn’t have to. But the bases were loaded and they had to do something. He did what he does best.”
Craig was more eager to credit his teammates for loading the bases, beginning with pinch hitter David Bryant’s leadoff single.
“David had a really good at-bat,” Craig said. “He hit that slider over the shortstop’s head to get us going, and then Kyle (Wilson) got that long at-bat walk (seven pitches) and Tucker (McPherson) put that ball in the outfield to get the bases loaded.”
Craig entered the game hitting .622. He went 1-for-2 and walked twice, but D-B coach Ryan Wagner understandably couldn’t pull the trigger on pitching around him with the bases loaded and none out.
“You can’t. … It didn’t matter about Craig if we did what we needed to before him,” Wagner said. “If you take care of the guys before him … when Craig comes up and he hits one 500 feet, you know, it’s 5-3.
“Of course, they had a couple of good two-strike at-bats there and got it done. You’ve gotta give them credit. They hung in there and fought back.”
Grant Rabbitts (3-1) got the win after allowing one unearned run in two innings of relief. His throwing error on Caleb Cook’s sacrifice bunt allowed Payton Marshall to score to give D-B a 5-2 lead with one out in the sixth. But Rabbits buckled down, stranded Cook at third and worked a perfect seventh for the win.
“I was proud of the way Rabbitts recovered from an inning where he threw a bunt away,” Edwards said. “He went out there and shut the door in that last inning.”
Hilltoppers starter Reed Hayes allowed all four of his runs in the fifth inning, a frame that featured four of his five walks, including one intentional pass. Craig and Edwards were both excited by Hayes’ start, particularly his velocity, and Edwards said he clearly was tiring in the fifth.
Hayes allowed two hits and struck out five. He also went 2-for-3 with two sharply hit singles and a walk. His two-out hit drove in Craig with the game’s first run after a wild pitch put him scoring position. Hayes also stole a base.
D-B starter Kyle Reeves allowed two runs in five-plus innings after entering with a 1.40 ERA. Chris Cook (0-1) came on in the seventh and took the loss.
Craig said Cook’s 1-0 slider that he hit the grand slam on was actually a pretty good pitch down and in. He said he hadn’t faced Cook since being hit by a pitch when they were sophomores.
Cook was also robbed of an RBI hit in the third inning when center fielder Malik Stephens got a good jump on his sinking liner in right-center to make a diving catch.
Austin Dayton had a two-run single for D-B that capped the four-run fifth.
Craig led off the sixth with walk, advanced to third thanks, in part, to Addison Adams line single, and scored on a wild pitch to get the Hilltoppers’ within 4-2.