It seemed like Science Hill had nine lives Monday. Unfortunately, for most of the large crowd at Cardinal Park, the Hilltoppers needed 10.
Sevier County got out of a bases-loaded one-out jam in the seventh inning to force extra innings and scored a run in the eighth thanks to a hit-batsman, an error and a sacrifice fly to defeat Science Hill 5-4 in a Region 1-AAA semifinal.
The Hilltoppers ended the season at 30-8. Sevier County (32-8) plays Dobyns-Bennett on Wednesday. The Indians defeated Morristown West on Monday.
Sevier County’s Dalton Ford led off the eighth getting hit by a pitch and advanced to third with one out when Dillon Cate reached on a two-base error. Dallas Gossett then scored Ford with a fly-out to left field.
Science Hill, which didn’t threaten in the eighth, trailed 4-3 entering the bottom of the seventh, but Tucker McPherson led off by reaching on a two-base error. Ensuing batter Kyle Wilson singled him to third, and starting pitcher Dillon Cate was replaced by freshman right-hander Devante Matthews (2-0).
McPherson tied the score on a head-first slide just ahead of a throw home on Jacob Pardue’s fielder’s choice, and the Hilltoppers loaded the bases with one out. But second baseman Ford caught David Bryant’s line-drive and dashed to second base to double off the runner for an inning-ending double play that forced an extra inning.
It was one of handful of Hilltoppers mistakes that eventually proved fatal. A hit-batsman, a walk and an error led to Sevier County’s three-run first, and a missed pop-up in foul territory allowed the Smokey Bears to take a 4-3 lead in the fifth. Science Hill also committed three errors and stranded five runners in scoring position.
“We had some opportunities,” Science Hill coach Ryan Edwards said, “but credit Sevier. ... They made some plays and had some timely hits.”
Matthews pitched two innings of scoreless relief for the victory.
“Devante Matthews came in ... and closed the door,” said Cate, an East Tennessee State signee. “Before he went out there I said, ‘Be a senior. ... You’re not a freshman any more, man.’”
Will Craig pitched seven innings for Science Hill. He allowed seven hits, walked three and struck out 12 in the 123-pitch outing. Reed Hayes allowed one unearned run in an inning of relief.
“We got two great arms in the kids that we saw,” Sevier coach Casey Taylor said, and they saw two great arms in the ones we threw out there at them, too. ... I mean, five (runs) seems like nine against those two arms.”
Craig was 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI. Bryant tied the score at 3 with an RBI double in the third.
“I’m really proud of our kids,” Edwards said, “the way they fought and the way the stayed together as a team all year long. ... They’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. I mean, we won 30 games, and when you get to this point in the season, no matter who you play you’re gonna face somebody good.”