Heading into the finals of the middle school baseball tournament Sunday in Sparta, who would have thought a one-out walk, a stolen base, and a single to right would be enough offense to win?
But that was all the scoring necessary for the Tullahoma Wildcats to nip the Warren County Middle School Pioneers.
In a masterful pitching duel, Tullahoma edged the Pioneers 1-0 to win the conference championship.
“Obviously we would have liked to have won the tournament, but the boys played their hearts out and there’s nothing more you can ask for than that,” said WCMS coach Jordan Underhill.
Tullahoma’s run came in the third inning on its only hit of the game. The Pioneers only managed one hit themselves, a Brandon Hennessee shot to right to start the seventh.
Both pitchers were clearly in control. For the Pioneers, Jack Keele finished with seven strikeouts in bringing his best stuff to the mound. His fastball was getting good movement late, which kept Tullahoma batters from making solid contact.
“He had everything going and was really keeping hitters off balance,” Underhill said of Keele.
Dylan Knight was the winning pitcher for Tullahoma, overcoming three errors to keep the Pioneers off the scoreboard.
When the Wildcats did hit the ball, Keele enjoyed great defensive support. Pioneer centerfielder Ethan Smith made the play of the game when he chased down a hard shot to the gap. Running at full speed to his left, Smith was able to coil and leap at the last minute just when it appeared the ball was going to sail over his head. He made the diving snag, then held up his glove while lying on the ground to show the umpire he still had the ball.
One of Warren County’s best chances of scoring came in the fourth inning when Will Cantrell and Hennessee both reached on Tullahoma infield errors, two bad throws to first. But Knight was able to work out of the jam with two runners left on base.
Down to its last bat in the top of the seventh, Hennessee tried to ignite a rally when he sent a pitch into right field for the Pioneers first hit, a lead-off single. Things looked even better when Hennessee was awarded second base on a balk.
Keele laid down a sacrifice bunt that enabled Hennessee to scamper to third base as Keele was thrown out at first. With one out, the Pioneers would have had a great chance of scoring if they could have put the ball in play, but a strikeout left Hennessee at third with two outs. A pop up to the pitcher ended the game.
Even with the loss, the Pioneers finished as tournament runner-up, the second time in three years they’ve earned that distinction. WCMS won the conference tournament last year. WCMS finishes the year 15-5.