Greenback got a spectacular pitching performance from Tyler Cullen — and a couple of home runs on a short field — to beat UH 3-1 for the Region 1-A championship Wednesday night at Pappy Hammontree Field.
Greenback (28-8) earned a home sectional game on Friday night against Chattanooga School of Arts and Sciences, while the Bucs (22-11) will hit the road to take on Lookout Valley. Friday night’s winners earn berths in next week’s state tournament in Murfreesboro.
“State’s still in play,” UH coach Josh Petty said. “Friday night’s the big one for us. We wanted to win the region, but we still have a chance to go to state.”
Cullen struck out the first four batters he faced — and six of his first 10 — while keeping the Bucs off balance all evening.
UH had two hits and they came from consecutive batters in the second inning. Jack Bembry hit a two-out double and scored on Brant Hare’s sharp single.
After a walk and a balk left runners on second and third, the Bucs had a chance at a big inning. Instead, Cullen got a strikeout to end the threat.
“He’s done that all year,” Greenback coach Wes Caldwell said. “He can get behind and get you in an aggressive count and work his way back and make good pitches. That’s why he drew this start.”
Cullen finished with seven strikeouts and walked two batters.
“He was throwing three pitches any time in the count and to be honest, we haven’t faced a pitcher at any level this year that could do that,” Petty said. “Just tip your hat to the pitcher. He beat us.”
The Cherokees broke a 1-1 tie in the third inning when Bryce Hanley and Seth Riddle hit back-to-back solo home runs off of UH starter Cas Blevins.
Those two shots over the short fence in left and center field were the difference in the game and both would have been routine outs at UH’s part-time home field, East Tennessee State’s Thomas Stadium.
“At the end of the day, we got to play on this field too, and we didn’t capitalize,” Petty said.
Caldwell said he has had to defend his small field a lot.
“We always say ‘It’s just as short for you as it is for us,’ ” he said.
Greenback had a runner on third with two outs in the first inning when Cullen hit a sharp liner down the first base line.
Hare, UH’s first baseman, made a diving stop, but the ball popped out of his glove. He gathered it and crawled to the bag in time to record the run-saving out.
Many of the Greenback players were on the school’s football team, which won the state championship last fall.
UH’s Jake Oligny was injured in the seventh inning. He was on first base when a throw came from right field, trying to double him up. The ball hit him directly in the face as he dove back to the base.
Oligny was in obvious pain. After he was replaced, the game was delayed briefly so blood could be removed from the area around the base.