Longshot Sullivan Central had begun to make Science Hill fans nervous until Will Craig’s long shot.
Craig went 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs and improved to 5-1 on the mound as the Hilltoppers opened the District 1-AAA tournament with a 9-1 victory against Sullivan Central on Friday at Cardinal Park.
Science Hill (26-6) will play Tennessee High (13-11) today at 10:30 a.m. at Volunteer High School. Sullivan Central (4-19) will play Sullivan South (19-13) in the final game tonight.
Central led 1-0 entering the bottom of the fourth inning, which Science Hill’s Jacob Pardue led off with a seven-pitch walk. Then Craig, a 6-foot-3, 212-pound Wake Forest signee, blasted the first pitch over the wall in deep left-center field for a 2-1 lead.
David Bryant added an RBI single in the frame and delivered a two-out, two-run single during a four-run fifth that dashed any hope for a Cougars upset.
Sulilvan Central coach Brian Barbour guessed Craig’s home run might have traveled 450 feet. The wind was blowing out, but the ball was still on a line at the fence. It came on a changeup, but Craig was looking for it.
“It was a changeup low,” Craig said. “It was a good pitch. I was just sitting on it, because the first at-bat he threw a changeup low and I hit a little weak pop-up to right field. I was like, ‘They’re gonna try to throw it again,’ so I just sat back and waited on it.”
Science Hill low-key coach Ryan Edwards couldn’t hide a smile when discussing a high school hitter looking for a first-pitch changeup and doing something with it.
“Isn’t is crazy,” Edwards said. “Who else can say, ‘I’m gonna go up there and look for a changeup’ and get one and hit it that far. He hammered it. It’s one of the longest I’ve seen him hit. He was just like, ‘Well, we’re down 1-0, here you go: boom.’”
Craig scuffled early on the mound. He stranded six runners in the first three innings. Central scored its run in the top of the third on a two-out, bases-loaded error, but Craig got an inning-ending pop-up to leave runners at every base.
Craig allowed five hits, one walk and struck out seven in six innings. He struck out the side while working a perfect fifth after his home run.
“I’ve got to show leadership,” Craig said. “The first few innings, I felt like I wasn’t showing it. I was being lackadaisical, and then coach came and talked to me. …
“I felt we looked past them. That was our first problem. Every team can play in this conference, and we figured it out.”
Bryant finished 2-for-3 with three RBIs. His two-run single with two outs in the fifth made the score 6-1, and ensuing batter Addison Adams made it 7-1 with RBI single to center field.
“Since David’s been in the lineup he’s been one of the clutchest players we’ve had,” Craig said.
Kyle Wilson was 1-for-3 with a walk and run for Science Hill. Pardue walked, was hit by a pitch, got down a sacrifice bunt and scored twice. Reed Hayes doubled off the left field fence, stole a base and scored two runs. Tucker McPherson and J.T. Torbett each doubled, too.
Matthew Beaird pitched a perfect seventh to end it.
Left-hander Josh Horton went the distance for Central, allowing eight earned runs in seven innings. Horton (2-for-3) also had two of Central’s five hits.
“He’s a good pitcher and he had us down 1-0 (in the fourth),” Edwards said. “But I was proud of the way our guys stayed relaxed and went out and hit the baseball from the fourth inning on. … Any time you play games like this you’re always gonna be a little tight (early).”
Tennessee High 7, Sullivan South 6
Right-hander Mitch Stophel (3-3) allowed four runs on six hits in a gutsy 123-pitch, five-inning outing, and Peyton Henley struck out slugger Matt Williams looking to complete the save with runners at first and second.
The visiting Vikings took a 6-1 lead when catcher Brady Adams capped a five-run third with a two-run home run to left. The home run was preceded by Stophel’s line-drive, two-run triple to right-center.
“Our offense has been up and down and we had some guys step up there and hit it well,” Tennessee High coach Dave Rutherford said. “Our catcher’s come on and played well the last (4-6) weeks, and he’s made a difference.”
Rutherford said he’ll pitch Devin Turner against Science Hill today. Turner pitched when the Vikings beat the Hilltoppers 4-3 on April 23.
Russell Koesters went the distance on the mound for South. His RBI single got the Rebels within 7-5 in the bottom of the sixth, and Jamin McCann then scored on a wild pitch to make it 7-6, but Henley escaped further damage with two straight fly-outs.
Andrew Copas started a two-out rally in the bottom of the seventh with a double. Preston Douglas followed with a six-pitch walk, but Henley retired the imposing Williams with the bat on his shoulder to end it.
“We had opportunities,” South coach Anthony Richardson said. “Had the right people up. … But give them a lot of credit. They hit the ball well, especially that one inning. But we battled back and gave ourselves a chance. That’s all you can ask for.”