SMYRNA — Just when it appeared Elizabethton was going to pull off another magnificent escape, the Cyclones were duped by sleight of hand.
The play seemed to fit right in place in a game where Elizabethton made a myriad of mistakes.
Dyersburg pulled the pickoff trick in the bottom of the seventh inning, stemming a Cyclones’ rally and helping close out a 6-4 victory in the losers’ bracket semifinals of the Class AA state baseball tournament Wednesday at Smyrna High School.
It was a season-ending loss for the Cyclones, who finished at 28-12 — tying the 2007 team for the school record in victories.
“It’s baseball, and sometimes you’re on top of the world,” said Cyclones’ head coach Joe Nix. “Sometimes it hurts a little bit at the end of the season. But these kids battled, and they shocked a lot of people getting down here.”
The Cyclones had rallied several times for victories in their final at-bat this season. Trailing 6-2 in the bottom of the seventh, they strung together a walk, two singles, and an error to cut the margin to 6-4 and put runners on first and second with one out.
That’s when Dyersburg went to its bag of tricks.
“You have to pull out all the stops,” said Dyersburg head coach Tom Mathis. “They had the (potential) winning run at the plate, so we had to do something. Pickoffs, even fake pickoffs, are a big part of our defense.”
Pitcher James Putnam turned and wheeled toward second base, faking a throw. The shortstop and second baseman both dove head-first toward the bag, and Dyersburg’s players were screaming that the ball got away.
After Elizabethton’s Chris Lanthorn dove back to the base, he got back up and tried to go to third. But Putnam was holding the ball, and he tagged Lanthorn between second and third for the second out of the inning.
“In that situation, they executed it so perfectly,” said Nix. “It didn’t matter who we had on second base. Nobody heard anything because it was just a jumble of sound with everybody yelling. Hats off to them.”
Up to that point, it looked like the Cyclones would post another come-from-behind win.
“We didn’t have a doubt until the last out,” said Nix. “But when that play happened, it did take the wind out of our sails.”
That one play didn’t cost the Cyclones the game. Elizabethton took care of that throughout the contest, crushing itself with seven hit batters, three walks, and four errors. Four of Dyersburg’s six runs were unearned.
Senior catcher Thomas Miller said the Cyclones didn’t lose for lack of effort.
“I think we left it all on the field,” said Miller. “It wasn’t enough, but I wouldn’t want to go out with any other group of guys. This is my favorite team I’ve played on. Every single game, the players gave it their all.”
Elizabethton also got hurt by a controversial call in the top of the sixth inning. On an attempted sacrifice bunt, the Cyclones recorded a force out at second — so said the umpire about five feet from the play.
But after a protest from Mathis, the first base umpire — approximately 90 feet away — convinced the other ump to change his call.
“Obviously that was huge,” said Nix. “We would have liked to have had that call. The first base umpire said (shortstop Cameron Miller) never got back to the base.”
After a sacrifice bunt moved the runners up, Ryan Lee hit an RBI single off the glove of Miller, who was pitching, to make it 4-2. Caleb Hudson then bunted on a squeeze play, and Miller mishandled the ball and the run scored.
Two hit batters followed, forcing in another run. In an odd statistic, the Cyclones had more hits when Dyersburg was at the plate than Dyersburg had — seven hit batters, five hits allowed.
Dylan Richardson (9-2) took the loss, allowing three hits and three runs, two earned, in six innings. He walked three, hit five, and struck out two.
Zack Stewart was the winning pitcher, going 6 1/3 innings, allowing eight hits and four runs, two earned. Stewart pitched to contact, walking one and striking out one. Putnam got the save.
Lanthorn and Miller each had two hits for the Cyclones.
Nix said he hopes there is carryover from this season.
“Some of the young guys know what it’s like to get here, and they are already itching to get back,” said Nix.