ELIZABETHTON — For all Greeneville could figure out, Elizabethton must have looked a lot like Freddy Krueger.
The Greene Devils kept killing their nemesis only to watch the Cyclones rise from the ashes time and time again. The final blow was a thrilling four-run rally in the bottom of the 10th inning — capped off by Hunter Hodges' walk-off RBI single — giving Elizabethton a 14-13 victory in the Region 1-AA baseball championship Wednesday night at O'Brien Field.
The two teams combined for 36 hits to set an all-time state record. Elizabethton's total of 20 was the fourth-best in state history, according to the Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association record book.
Not only did Elizabethton (27-10) earn home-field advantage for Friday's sectional game, the Cyclones avoided the 94-mph fastball of Pigeon Forge's Wil Crowe. Elizabethton will play Christian Academy of Knoxville, a 7-5 loser to Pigeon Forge in the Region 2-AA title game.
Greeneville (23-10) will travel to play Pigeon Forge.
The Cyclones earned their first region title since 2007 — and they did it in the most unconventional way possible.
“We play ugly baseball,” said Elizabethton head coach Joe Nix. “We tried to beat it into their heads about the mental stuff and too much aggression.
“But when the tournaments came, we told them they play ugly baseball and we need to embrace it. If we make a mistake, we said just score three or four runs to make up for it.”
With a region championship up for grabs, Elizabethton disintegrated in a sea of mental and physical errors. The Cyclones committed seven errors, allowed four stolen bases with Cyclones' pitchers paying little or no attention to the runner, and also had a runner thrown out trying to steal third with two outs and down by one run in the sixth inning.
It seemed to come a crushing conclusion in the 10th inning. With runners on first and second and one out, Greeneville's Zach Finchum broke for third base as Elizabethton pitcher Thomas Miller stepped off the rubber. However, Miller was looking at the runner on first. Miller then wheeled around and fired to third base ahead of the runner — but the ball sailed well over the head of the third baseman and out of play. That allowed Finchum to score, and put Mike Lane all the way around to third.
Drew Patterson followed with an RBI double. Then Hunter Henrickson greeted relief pitcher Quincy Jackson with another RBI double to make it 13-10.
But this was old hat for the Cyclones, who had trailed 5-0, 7-4, 10-6 and trailed by one run entering the bottom of the seventh. Jackson started the 10th inning with a solid single to center, and Lanthorn followed with a looping single to right field.
Miller flew out to right, and Anthony Ward blooped a Texas League single into the Bermuda Triangle behind second base to load the bases.
That brought Eric Carter to the plate.
“I told Hunter Hodges and Coach Nix's oldest son to pray for me to get a hit,” said a smiling Carter. “Coach Nix preaches to get it to the next batter and they will come through.”
Carter drove the ball into the right field gap, for what looked like a bases-clearing double. However, Lane cut the ball off and held Carter to a two-run single, protecting Greeneville's lead at 13-12.
Austin Smith then came to the plate, and launched a fly ball to center field that easily scored Ward from third.
Hodges, whose double ignited the seventh-inning rally, then stepped up.
“It really did relax me a whole bunch that the score was tied,” said Hodges. “I knew my team was behind me no matter what.”
Hodges said the hit was thrilling.
“It was crazy,” he said. “This was definitely one of the best baseball games I've been a part of.”
It was at least the fourth time this season Elizabethton had scored multiple runs in its final at-bat to win a game.
“Every time we get down and we come in the dugout, the coaches are on the players to get up,” said Carter. “We never give up.”
Jackson, who was not part of the pitching game plan, wound up getting the win with two-thirds of an inning of relief. The Cyclones survived despite allowing six unearned runs.
Carter was the hero at the plate, going 4 for 5 with five RBIs. Jackson, Lanthorn and Ward each totaled three hits for the Cyclones.
Henrickson had three hits for Greeneville.
The Greene Devils broke loose early, scoring three unearned runs in the first inning. Jake Treadway reached on a dropped fly ball by Austin Smith, and with two outs Carter booted a grounder at shortstop and then threw the ball away for a second error on the play. Later, Henrickson had an RBI single to give Greeneville a 3-0 lead.
The Greene Devils pushed their advantage to 5-0 on Patterson's RBI double and D.J. Ball's RBI single in the third inning.
Elizabethton came to life in the bottom of the third inning. Jackson legged out an infield hit, and Lanthorn followed with an RBI triple. After a walk, Ward singled in a run to make it 5-2.
Carter then looped a ball to right field, and Lane's diving-catch attempt came up short. It turned into a two-run triple.
Another Cyclones' error set up a fourth-inning run for Greeneville. Matt Barham got the RBI with a sacrifice fly.
In the fifth inning, the Cyclones closed the gap. Carter drove in the first run with an RBI single, and then Smith made it 7-6 with a ground ball single to left field.
However, Greeneville regrouped with three runs off Elizabethton ace Dylan Richardson in the sixth inning. Finchum ripped an RBI double to make it 8-6. One out later, Patterson singled in a run and another scored on an error.
Elizabethton kept battling, rallying for three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. Markus Olds, Caleb Jones and Jackson singled to load the bases, and a run scored when Greeneville mishandled Lanthorn's grounder.
“That was a key,” said Greeneville head coach Jeremy Shepherd. “If we get an out right there, those other runs don't score.
“This was the craziest game I've been a part of. Baseball is a funny game with so many ups and downs. Tonight was a perfect example.”
Miller hit into a double play with a run scoring to make it 10-8. Ward then made it 10-9 with a single, and Carter drew a walk.
However, the Cyclones attempted a two-out double steal and Ward was thrown out by at least 10 feet at third base for the final out.
Elizabethton clawed its way to a tie in the bottom of the seventh inning. Hodges' one-out double was followed by Cameron Miller's infield hit. Then Caleb Armstrong's RBI groundout tied the game. However, Jackson flied out to left to end the threat.