That patience paid off as the Hilltoppers used a nine-run fifth inning to defeat the Blue Devils 10-0 in a matchup of conference champions Monday night at TVA Credit Union Ballpark.
“Their guy was good and he struck out several of our guys early,” Edwards said. “We also had some good at-bats and worked his pitch count up. I felt like if we wore him down, we could get to him a little bit later in the game. And then we were able to break it open on him.”
With Science Hill clinging to 1-0 lead entering the fifth inning thanks to Cade McCoy’s sacrifice fly, David Bryant led off with a triple. It started a parade of base runners as the first six batters in the inning scored. Matthew Levi ended it with an RBI double that would have easily scored two runs if the game hadn’t ended because of the 10-run rule.
Science Hill had eight hits in the inning.
“Those guys can swing it,” Unicoi County coach Chad Gillis said. “And that’s the word all around East Tennessee, too. They can swing the bats. They’re a good team. I told Ryan before the game they look like they’re going to go a long way this year.”
With one game left in the regular season, the Hilltoppers improved to 28-6. They won the Big Seven Conference’s regular-season championship. Unicoi County, the regular-season champ in the Three Rivers Conference, fell to 18-11.
Simpson entered the fifth inning having allowed three hits and one run while striking out five batters before Bryant’s solid triple down the right field line. Chance Hall and Keller followed with singles before Simpson hit Levi with a pitch.
When Ben Edwards bunted for a hit, Simpson seemed to tweak his leg as he fielded the ball. That was the last batter he faced.
“I think he got a little tired,” Gillis said. “We had a big game Wednesday night against Elizabethton. That was physically and mentally exhausting. We’ll be all right. We’re super proud of his senior season. It all matters starting Saturday.”
Science Hill starter Quinn Boyle worked four innings and held the Blue Devils to one hit, Caleb Crain’s solid single to left field in the third.
“Boyle gave us a good start,” Edwards said. “He gave us a chance. He gave our offense a chance.”
Boyle was helped by a strong defensive effort that included double plays to end the third and fourth innings. McCoy, Science Hill’s third baseman, briefly kept Boyle’s no-hitter intact when he fielded a ball that caromed off the pitcher and threw off balance to get the runner at first.
Keller, the Hilltoppers’ first baseman, fielded a grounder, stepped on the bag and threw to second to complete a double play to end the fourth.
“Our defense was outstanding today,” Edwards said. “To keep it a zero-zero game going into the later innings we made some outstanding plays. Cade McCoy stole a couple of hits and that was huge and Kolten Keller’s double play was nice too.”
Science Hill’s Ben Edwards was thrown out at the plate on a close play in the third inning. Unicoi County center fielder Keaton Casey made a strong throw after fielding Caleb Marmo’s single and catcher Hunter Higgins’ tag was even better. The play kept the game scoreless at the time.
Science Hill closes the regular season by playing host to Elizabethton in a non-conference game Tuesday at 6 p.m. at TVA Credit Union Ballpark. The game was moved from Elizabethton so the Cyclones could get a game in where the District 1-AA tournament will be held beginning Saturday.