MURFREESBORO — The Science Hill baseball team wasn’t about to let this golden opportunity pass them by.
Playing in the program’s first state championship game in 23 years, the Hilltoppers scored eight runs in the first three innings and rolled to a 9-5 win over Hardin Valley to capture the TSSAA Class AAA title Friday afternoon at Oakland High School.
It was the first state title for coach Ryan Edwards, the fifth state championship in program history and the first since 1998. The five championships push Science Hill past Unicoi County for the most in North- east Tennessee and into a second-place tie with Chattanooga Central for the second most among public schools in the state.
It also marked the 14th straight win for the Hilltoppers (34-9), who went undefeated in the postseason.
“I always tell the kids to play your best baseball in May,” Edwards said. “If you can put three weeks together, you get hot, you can win the whole thing. We had depth in pitching, a good tournament team. We’ve had good teams that didn’t get over the hump, but this team did. I’m proud of them.”
The pitching depth gave Science Hill the luxury of having 6-foot-6 senior right-hander Evan King as Friday’s starter. He retired nine straight batters at one point and picked up the win with six strikeouts over 4 2/3 innings. Dustin Eatmon pitched an inning of relief before Caleb McBride closed the final 1 1/3 innings.
Combined, they had seven strikeouts and gave up just two walks. Over the state tournament, the Science Hill staff had 39 strikeouts against 11 walks in 28 innings.
“We got a couple of runs in the first and I shut them down after that,” King said. “We kept putting runs on the scoreboard and it becomes easy to pitch with a lead. I felt like I was throwing my fastball pretty good and my curveball was working well today.
“We knew this could be a special team once the district tournament started. We’ve been on a run ever since then. This is the first time (for Science Hill) in 23 years and I’ve been wanting this my whole life.”
With Science Hill producing up and down the lineup, lead-off batter Cole Torbett had three hits and drove in three runs — which was matched by freshman Landon Smelser in the nine-hole.
Senior Conner Hyatt had two hits, while Nathan Conner and pinch runner Carter Skeen scored two runs apiece.
“Coming in, I was just thinking about keeping within myself and not get too big in the moment,” Hyatt said. “I was relaxed, more relaxed honestly than any other game and it’s the biggest game of my life. We got the early runs and after that, we kept tacking on. Everything about this was great. I really enjoyed playing with those guys. I think everybody was prepared and nobody was that nervous.”
The Tigers (29-8) were led by Cooper Clapp, who had two hits and drove in three runs. However, they were no match for a Science Hill team determined to make the most of its trip to Murfreesboro.
“It’s unbelievable and I’m so proud of my players,” Edwards said. “They’re gutsy players. We had a lot of depth in our pitching. Our defense was outstanding and we had timely hitting down the stretch. We put it all together today and probably had our best game of the season.”