For Elizabethton, the stark reality was a one-run deficit after 4 1/2 innings.
The Cyclones got it together in the nick of time and held off determined Claiborne for a 5-4 win in the Region 1-AA baseball semifinals Monday night at Joe O’Brien Field.
“It has been a hard year,” said Cyclones’ head coach Ryan Presnell. “There has been adversity since Day 1. These kids responded to that. At the end of the day, when we’re aggressive we put ourselves in position to succeed. Somebody had to blink and they blinked one more time than we did.”
Improving to 25-7 on the season, Elizabethton advanced to Wednesday’s championship game at 6 p.m. The Cyclones will play host to the winner of Tuesday’s game between Sullivan South and Greeneville.
Elizabethton also locked up a spot in Friday’s sectional round, where a berth in the state tournament will be at stake.
Claiborne’s season ended with a record of 16-17.
THE WINNING RUN
Tied 4-4 in the bottom of the sixth inning, Jacob Mullins drew a leadoff walk. He was picked off as he attempted to steal second base, and the throw easily beat him to the bag. The shortstop, however, held the ball low and Mullins stepped over the tag and was ruled safe.
“I saw he was tagging low, so I just pretty much stepped over his glove and stepped on the base,” said Mullins. “He knew he missed me. He said he missed me.”
With two outs, Mullins was still on second. The Bulldogs intentionally walked Karson Dillard. With a 1-0 count, Mullins stole third, and Dillard tried a delayed steal. The catcher threw the ball toward second base, trying to get Dillard, but the ball sailed into center field and Mullins scored easily.
“I saw nobody was holding me at second, so I had a pretty aggressive two-out lead,” said Mullins. “I had a good jump, so I took third. I didn’t see the play (at second base). They just told me to go.”
Trailing 4-3, the Cyclones had a runner on base with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning. Evan Carter drew a walk and Bryson Rollins followed with a clutch single to left field that tied the game at 4-4. Matthew Dailey was hit by a pitch to load the bases, but the Cyclones couldn’t come up with the two-out hit.
CLOSING THE DOOR
Carter (8-2) worked six innings to get his eighth consecutive win, allowing four runs but all were unearned. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out four.
Presnell gave the ball to Lawson Wagner for the top of the seventh, and Wagner slammed the door shut. He needed just 10 pitches, recording two strikeouts in the perfect frame for his second save of the season.
TAKING A LEAD
Clairborne bounced back from an early deficit, scoring four times in the fifth inning.
With two outs and two on, an Elizabethton fielding error made it 3-1. Another error allowed two more runs to score to tie the game.
Gage Callebs gave the Bulldogs a 4-3 lead with an RBI single.
Carter said he kept battling on the mound despite Claiborne’s rally.
“You’ve just got to push through it, and get it together,” said Carter. “We got through it and it all worked out.”
Elizabethton put up a three spot in the bottom of the second inning. Wagner got it started with a single, and two walks followed before Nico Ashley drove a fly ball to left field for a sacrifice fly and the game’s first run.
Dillard added an RBI single to make it 2-0, and the Cyclones added a third run on an error.