MILLIGAN COLLEGE — After a season with a flair for the dramatic, Elizabethton staged its most daring act so far.
Down to their last out with nobody on base and trailing by four runs, the Cyclones rallied for a tie. Then they fell behind in the eighth inning before rallying again for a 9-8 win over Sullivan East in the winners' bracket semifinals of the District 1-AA baseball tournament at Anglin Field on Saturday.
Quincy Jackson's long sacrifice fly tied the game, and Chris Lanthorn won it with a slashing walk-off RBI single down the right field line.
The Cyclones won despite making seven errors. Seven of East's eight runs were unearned.
Elizabethton (23-10) moved into today's winners' bracket final against Happy Valley at 4 p.m. The Warriors stunned top-seeded Unicoi County, 3-2.
East (18-11) fell into the losers' bracket and will play Johnson County today at 6:30 p.m. The Longhorns stayed alive with a 4-3 win over Sullivan North.
Three times this season, the Cyclones have faced their final out before rallying to win despite trailing by multiple runs.
“It's a trend,” said Cyclones' head coach Joe Nix with a laugh. “I wish we wouldn't continue to wait like that.”
East scored twice in the top of the seventh inning to take a 7-3 lead. Pitcher Jordan Jackson then struck out the first two batters in the bottom of the seventh.
However, Jackson and Lanthorn singled and Thomas Miller walked to load the bases. Anthony Ward then hit a potential game-ending grounder to third, but it was booted and all runners were safe, making it 7-4.
After a wild pitch plated another run, Eric Carter made amends for some defensive letdowns with a two-run game-tying single.
“That was huge,” said Nix. “He was looking for redemption.”
East regrouped and took the lead on a controversial play. Jordan Jackson hit a one-out fly ball to Quincy Jackson in right field. Jackson caught the ball and gunned it to home plate — well ahead of Austin White, who was trying to score from third.
Cyclones' catcher Hunter Hodges appeared to tag the sliding runner, but White was ruled safe.
“(Hodges) made the play,” said Nix. “He tagged him. I guess (the umpire) got shielded by the runner and didn't get a good look.”
However, the Cyclones recovered as Hodges drew a leadoff walk, moved to second on a sacrifice and scored on Caleb Armstrong's double — setting the stage for Jackson and Lanthorn.
“I just hit it where the coach told me to hit it,” said Lanthorn. “And that was to right field.”
Lanthorn said the four-run deficit in the seventh was a tough chore.
“It was pretty scary,” he said. “But I have confidence in our team.”
Miller (4-1) earned the win in relief. Jackson finished with three hits while Carter had two hits and three RBIs.
Eat got two hits each from Brady McGrew and Will Ellis. Whittaker had two RBIs.
Johnson County 4, Sullivan North 3
Trailing 2-0, the Longhorns rallied for four runs in the fifth inning.
Jacob Henson played a key role in the rally. His RBI single made it 2-1, and he scored the tying run by stealing home on the back end of a double steal.
Daniel Helm then delivered the eventual game-winning hit, an RBI single that made it 3-2.
North threatened to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth inning. But Longhorns' pitcher Ryan Mahala got a pair of clutch strikeouts to preserve a one-run lead.
Mahala went the distance, allowing three hits and two runs.