Elizabethton turned a fortunate bounce into a double play in the top of the fifth inning, and the Cyclones broke the scoreless battle in the sixth. The final score was 1-0 in the winners’ bracket final of the District 1-AA baseball tournament Tuesday at TVA Credit Union Ballpark.
Cyclones head coach Ryan Presnell said, “You hate seeing a baseball game kind of hinge on something like that. But we’ve certainly had our bad luck, too. It’s one of those things when the bad luck happens to the other team, are you able to execute?”
The win was worth a berth in the region for the Cyclones (23-7) while the Rebels (19-10) will have to beat Sullivan East (16-13) in Wednesday’s losers’ bracket final at 5 p.m.
Elizabethton awaits in the championship round at approximately 8 p.m. A second game, if necessary, would be played Thursday.
Cory Williams led off the fifth inning with a roped double to left field. Eli Jennings followed with a bunt that pitcher Matthew Dailey fielded and tried to nail courtesy runner Eli Jones, who was headed to third base. Dailey’s throw went over third baseman Lawson Wagner’s head and appeared to be headed down the left field line. Instead, it struck the third-base umpire in the chest.
Wagner retrieved the ball quickly and had Jones dead to rights as he headed toward home plate. Cyclones’ catcher Karson Dillard tagged Jones and fired to Bryson Rollins, cutting down Jennings as he tried to advance.
It was a 1-5-2-6 double play, and it completely changed the game.
“Lawson Wagner and Karson Dillard had a one-throw rundown,” said Presnell. “Karson was almost halfway down the line. He cut down the distance. Boom. Tag. Out. And the whole dugout is screaming, ‘Two!’ We did exactly what we were supposed to do.”
For South head coach Anthony Richardson, it was just one of those things.
“It’s baseball,” said Richardson. “If we don’t have a three-man crew, we would have scored and had a runner at second with nobody out. Instead we’re two outs and that turned out to be the ballgame. It’s baseball.”
Matthew Dailey was superb on the mound for the Cyclones. After a shaky start where South loaded the bases in the top of the first inning with one out, Dailey cruised. He pitched a four-hitter, walking two and striking out five.
“He’s done it all year, and he’s going to continue to do it,” said Presnell. “It’s in his DNA.”
Dailey said he overcame the rocky start with control.
“I was struggling to throw strikes early in the game,” said Dailey. “Later on I just threw it in there because I knew I had a defense to back me up.”
GETTING A RUN
With one out in the bottom of the sixth, Dillard reached second base on an error. Jaden Anderson followed with a grounder to the right of South’s first baseman. He turned and threw back to the pitcher covering first base, but the ball got away and Dillard scored the game’s only run.
“Our kids did a great job of taking advantage of mistakes,” said Presnell. “We put the ball in play and that put pressure on the defense.”
Elizabethton put the ball in play all game as the Cyclones did not have a strikeout. South lefty Austin Hale went the distance, allowing just three hits and no earned runs with two walks. Hale needed only 56 pitches in six innings of work.