The Wildcat Classic baseball tournament lived up to its name in the championship game on a very pleasant Sunday afternoon at Hixson's John Plumlee Stadium.
The Tullahoma Wildcats remained unbeaten for the season with their seventh straight win, but it was a nail-biter as it took 10 innings before the Wildcats could slip past the Gwinnett County Barons by a 6-4 final.
Tullahoma had won games over East Hamilton, Ooltewah, Hixson and Bradley by a combined score of 57-10 entering Sunday's final, but they must have left their good bats back at the motel as Baron senior Blake Puckett limited them to just six hits in nine-plus innings.
He faced three hitters in the 10th, but was replaced by Ryan Larrazabal after the eventual-winning run had scored.
He was a tough-luck loser who certainly deserved better fate as he walked four while striking out nine.
The Barons made seven errors on the afternoon, leading to two unearned runs in the third and the deciding two in the 10th that were also unearned.
"That was a heckuva game as they played their hearts out," Tullahoma coach Brad White said as he pointed toward the Barons dugout.
"We weren't very sharp today as we didn't do the little stuff well, but I guess we just outlasted them. We played a great team today and we're fortunate that we won. We had to find a way to win, but you have to be able to hit in clutch situations to win games like this and we didn't.
"We have the pieces to have a pretty good team, but we aren't there yet," White said.
Gwinnett County coach Brian York surely would have loved to head back toward Atlanta with the championship trophy, but he was satisfied with the job his kids did.
"Not bad for a bunch of home-schooled kids," he said after his team dropped to 6-3 overall after winning four in a row in this tournament before Sunday's setback.
"I wish we could have played better defense, but Blake was shutting them down. We had a chance to win it in seven, but we just beat ourselves," York added.
Tullahoma scored two in the first inning and made it 4-0 with two more in the third before the Barons scored three in the fourth before adding the tying run in the fifth.
The Barons did indeed have a great chance to win in regulation, but Logan Haner flied out to right to end the inning with the bases loaded. A.J. Statham had walked to lead off before Holt Davis hit into a fielder's choice. Cameron Carr's single to left put runners at first and second before Ryan Larrazabal got another walk to load the bases.
Haner flied out on an 0-1 count to end the threat.
Puckett had thrown 133 pitches before the final inning began. Despite those high numbers, his velocity was still on the money and his location was equally as good.
The Wildcats got a leadoff walk to Justin Brown and he reached second when a bunt by Van Williams was thrown away by Puckett. Another bunt single by Tyler Burns was thrown away as the winning run crossed the plate. The second run scored on a groundout one batter later, but the damage had been done.
Tullahoma senior Jordan Sheffield, who had two of the Wildcats five hits and had an outstanding weekend, was voted the tournament MVP.
Brown was the starting pitcher for Tullahoma and went five innings. His two-run single in the third boosted the Wildcats lead after Dalton Davis and Justus Sheffield had reached on Baron errors.
The Barons had their biggest inning in the fourth when they scored three runs.
Holt Davis led off with a single before Cameron Carr walked. Cole McFerron's single drove in the first run while two-out singles by Chapman Whitted and Kyle Gaddis drove in the other two.
Carr and Whitted were the only two Barons with two hits. Davis was the only Gwinnett Co. player to score two runs.
Tullahoma 202 000 000 2 -- 6 6 0
Gwinnett Co. 000 310 000 0 -- 4 9 7
Brown, Moore (6), Sheffield (8), Hampton (10) and Butaud; Puckett, Larrazabel (10) and Davis.
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)