MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Talk about resiliency.
Three-time defending state Class A champion Decatur County Riverside routed Silverdale Baptist Academy, 18-1, Thursday to force a winner-take-all showdown and determine the upper bracket winner at Middle Tennessee Christian’s Joe Baron Field.
Decatur County had the momentum.
Silverdale had its horse on the mound – senior Reid Clements.
After pounding the Seahawks with 13 hits, including a 5-for-5 performance by Alex Whitwell that included five RBIs in the opener, Silverdale rode Clements’ six-hit, 10-strikeout effort to a 6-2 second-game victory and into Friday’s high noon (Eastern) Class A state championship matchup with Friendship Christian at Middle Tennessee State University’s Reese Smith Jr. Stadium.
“This is indescribable,” said Seahawks coach Jonathan Adcock, his team now 29-3-1. Decatur had won three state titles and Summertown one. That’s four state titles in our bracket. We had never even won a district championship before this season and now we’re going to play for a state championship.”
Friendship Christian (32-6) beat Knoxville Grace, 12-1, to earn a shot at this year’s state championship. The Commanders won it all in 2007.
Silverdale is trying to become only the second Chattanooga school in the three-class era that dates to 1977 to win a Class A championship. Lookout Valley claimed titles in 1977 and 1980.
The last Chattanooga state champion – in any classification – was Baylor in 2006.
“This is pretty amazing, especially coming off that first game,” said junior Colton Rogers, who was raked for six runs – four earned – in just one inning of work in the opener. He pitched to 11 batters, facing five without recording an out in the second and all five runners scored.
Amazingly, the Seahawks stopped the onslaught by throwing three runners out at home plate.
“I didn’t have anything working for me, couldn’t find the strike zone and gave up some hits,” Rogers said. “Then Reid goes out there and threw the best game of his life. To come back from 18-1 and beat the defending state champion is just unreal.”
The first-game drubbing forced Adcock’s hand in using Clements rather than Joey Szollosi in the do-or-die nightcap.
Clements made the decision easier.
“Never before in my life have I pitched on two day’s rest,” he said. “But I was asking to do it. I wasn’t concerned with my arm (he had Tommy John surgery in December 2011).”
Said Adcock, “I had some concerns because we were hoping to use him (Friday). But after the first game we didn’t have much choice. We asked him if his arm was sore and if it was we might have let him go two or three innings. But he said his arm was fine. He’s like a horse out there. He loves these big games.”
Szollosi, a senior who normally plays shortstop, will get the start on Friday.
“He’s got a great arm, too,” the coach said. “We could have pitched Joey today and we could have gone with Josiah (Green, who had an effective relief stint in Game 1), or come back with Colton. He would have had a big chip on his shoulders.
“We don’t push the pitchers because we like them to get four day’s rest. We don’t like them going over a hundred pitches. At this stage, we felt like Reid’s arm is sound enough to handle the short turnaround.”
Clements held Decatur County (32-8), which finished second in its first state tourney appearance before reeling off three consecutive titles, scoreless for three innings. The Panthers got a run in the fourth on Alex Vise’s single – Clements’ throwing error trying to pick off Alex Whitwell – put the runner in scoring position.
Decatur County got another run in the fifth on Whitwell’s RBI hit deep in the hole between third and shortstop.
In the sixth and seventh, Clements denied the Panthers any further offense. He gave up a walk and single starting the sixth, but struck out two and retired Alex Hays on a groundout. Hays was the Panther’s starting pitcher in both games.
Clements struck out Jordan Goff in the seventh and got Clint Fisher and Whitwell on easy fly-ball outs to end the game.
“I’m ready for (Friday),” Clements said. “We’re a blessed team. We were ready for the second game and we’ll be ready to play Friendship. We’re really pumped right now.”
Clements, who beat Rockwood, 5-1, on Tuesday with a five-hitter and 12 strikeouts, was backed by timely hitting and solid defense – the Seahawks’ pattern all season except for three errors in a 2-1 win over Decatur on Wednesday and six errors that led to eight unearned runs in Thursday’s opener.
The Seahawks didn’t score until the fourth inning when Clements and Matt Millard each singled to start the rally. Cody Thomas, running for Clements, scored on Chance Brown’s groundout and Millard came home on Rogers’ sacrifice fly deep into foul territory in the right-field corner.
Silverdale again scored twice in the fifth off Hays. Brown and Rogers had RBI singles, but the Seahawks left the bases loaded when Jordan Delashmitt struck out and Spencer Mossburg popped out to second.
The Seahawks stretched the margin to four with two more in the seventh to put a lid on Decatur County’s highly successful state championship run.
Clements doubled and Thomas scored on Brown’s squeeze bunt. Brown later came home on Delashmitt’s infield grounder. Brown slid home to beat the throw from Hays, who was playing second after he was relieved on the mound.
Clements, Millard, Brown and Rogers each had two hits to power the Seahawks’ 10-hit attack. Brown drove in three runs.
“It’s awesome,” said Brown, who has been a low-in-the-order contributor throughout the state tournament. “That 18-1 blowout was God testing us, we think. Our confidence was shaken a little bit, but we kept our heads up and just played the next game.”
The first game was no contest. Decatur County came out on fire and stayed that way.
The Panthers scored eight runs in the second inning, sending 13 batters to the plate, added three in the third and five more in the fourth.
Whitwell did the most damage, but he had help, too. Fisher had a three-run double in the second. Hunter Pulley added two hits and three RBIs. Goff had two hits and scored four runs.
Eight of Decatur County’s runs were unearned due to six Silverdale errors.
“Those unearned runs kept piling up,” Adcock said. “We knew they were going to hit the ball, but if you make that many errors you’re really in trouble.”
Clements’ two-out single in the third scored Mossburg with the Seahawks’ lone run.
Decatur County 183 51 – 18 13 0
Silverdale Academy 001 00 – 1 6 6
Rogers, Millard (2), Green (5) and Bankston; Hays, Brawley (4) and Whitwell.
Silverdale Academy 000 220 2 – 6 10 1
Decatur County 000 110 0 – 2 6 3
Clements and Bankston; Hays, Whitwell (6) and Whitwell, Vise (6).
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)