By the time it was over, defending state champion Greeneville had battled its way to an 8-6 win over Elizabethton in the Region 1-AA baseball championship game at Joe O’Brien Field on Wednesday night.
The Cyclones fell to 25-8, and will travel Friday to play Alcoa (33-5) in the sectional. Alcoa earned its spot with an 8-2 win over Pigeon Forge in the Region 2-AA title game.
Greeneville (30-6) will play host to Pigeon Forge in another sectional matchup.
It looked like Greeneville was going to run away for the win — thanks in part to shaky defense by the Cyclones.
The fateful inning for Elizabethton was the third. With the score tied at 1-1, Greeneville started the inning with a pop out, reached on an error, and a ground out.
But instead of three up, three down, the Greene Devils made the extra out count. Braden Spano doubled hard down the left field line to make it 2-1, and Jacques Gillespie-Taylor hit an RBI bloop single to left field that probably could have been caught but apparently got lost in the sun by the left fielder.
CJ Henley singled in another run before a wild pitch made it 5-1. Another error made it 6-1.
All five of the runs were unearned.
“We’ve got to fix it,” said Presnell. “We’ve talked since the very beginning that when you want to play big-boy baseball like this, you can’t allow big crooked innings. If we don’t do that tonight, we’re the club on top.”
Elizabethton started its rally with a third-inning home run by Evan Carter. The Cyclones closed to within 7-4 in the fifth inning and had runners on the corners.
A pitched ball got away from the Greeneville catcher and Matthew Dailey scored from third base — or so it seemed. After Greeneville head coach Andy Collins came to the field to question the umpire’s ruling, a lengthy conference was held by the umpires. At the end of the discussion, the umpires ruled batter’s interference for hitting the catcher with the follow through of the swing. That was the final out of the inning and Dailey’s run didn’t count.
“It was just a very confusing time for everybody,” said Presnell. “We had folks running around everywhere. It took a while to get to the bottom of the call.”
The Cyclones scored twice in the bottom of the sixth to make it 7-6. With runners on first and second and one out, Bryson Rollins hit a line-drive rope to Henley at shortstop. Henley caught it for the second out and then turned it into an inning-ending double play by doubling the runner off of second base.
The Cyclones were led by Rollins, Dailey, Ashton Wilson and Jaden Anderson, who each had two hits.
For Greeneville, Caleb Norris went 3 for 3 at the plate. Spano finished with two RBIs while Bryce Buchanan added two hits.
Chase Collins got the win on the mound despite allowing 10 hits and five runs in five innings. Ayden Cheney got the save with two innings of relief.