Just when Hixson tried to mount a rally, Sequoyah reliever Garrett Dalton slammed the door in the Wildcats’ face.
Chiefs starter Josh Watson pitched into a mild mess in the sixth and Dalton pitched out of it, preserving a 6-1 victory over Hixson and nailing down Sequoyah’s second straight Region 3-AA championship on a rainy day at John Plumlee Stadium.
“That’s the way it goes sometimes,” Hixson coach Colton Green said. “They took advantage of our mistakes and we didn’t take advantage of theirs. And we didn’t get hits when we needed them. You have to score more than one run to win a region game.”
Both teams already had earned a Sectional berth on Friday by winning their semifinal games. Sequoyah will be at home against the Region 4-AA champion and Hixson will travel to play the winner. DeKalb County and Murfreesboro Magnet will play for the 4-AA championship on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. Central time in Murfreesboro.
“We’re still alive,” Green said. “Sectional is one game and you never know what will happen. Win one game and you’re in the state tournament and that’s where we want to be. We’ve got a chance.”
Sequoyah (25-6), which has won five games in a row and 10 of its last 11, had taken a 5-1 lead in the top of the sixth on sophomore Braden Strickland’s two-run homer off Wildcats starter Tanner Moylan.
Trey Strickland reached on his second walk of the game and scored ahead of Braden.
“That was my first homer,” Braden Strickland said. “I missed the early season after having knee surgery, but all that matters is that we I helped the team win.”
Hixson (22-12) got an Alex Prewitt walk and Andrew Rollins was hit by a pitch to start the bottom of the inning sixth.
First-year Sequoyah coach Brad Schrock turned to Dalton to put out the fire.
Dalton, one of the Chiefs’ nine seniors, poured a bucket of water on the Wildcats striking out Austin Gilkey and Gill Brown – both went down on 3-2 pitches – and Bradley Burris whiffed on three straight pitches.
“I’m pretty confident in situations like that,” said Dalton, who is 2-1 as a starter and has three saves. “I’ve relieved my whole career and came in many times with the bases loaded. It never gets any easier though.”
Schrock didn’t hesitate to yank Dalton from his shortstop position and put him on the mound to face the Wildcats’ fourth, fifth and sixth batters.
“This is my first year, but that’s what he’s been doing for four years,” said Schrock, whose team opened the season with 11 straight wins. “Earlier in the year against Pigeon Forge he comes in with a 2-1 lead, the bases loaded and no one out and gets three strikeouts in a row just like today.
“For Garett, the bigger the moment is the bigger the result for him.”
Dalton struck out two more Wildcats in the seventh and got Chase Jones on a fly ball to center to end the game and set off a celebration near first base.
Dalton is expected to pitch Friday night in the Sectional game and help the Chiefs get to the state tournament.
“We’ve been in the (Sectional) before,” he said. “We had Murfreesboro Magnet at home last year and they said they were going to beat us with small-ball. We said they couldn’t do that. We took them lightly and they beat us. We don’t want that to happen again.”
Watson and Dalton combined for a sterling two-hitter. Watson allowed Hixson’s lone run in the third when Jones reached on a fielder’s choice, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on Rollins’ groundout.
“Their first guy was OK and a little tricky,” Gilkey said. “The second pitcher was pretty good and was just shoving the ball down our throats.”
Sequoyah grabbed a 1-0 lead against Moylan in the third when Braden Strickland reached on an infield hit, stole second – the aggressive Chiefs stole five bases in the game – and scored on Micah McCrary’s hit.
Hixson’s sloppy defense coughed up two unearned runs in the fifth.
McCrary reached on a one-out single to left, went to second on Moylan’s wild pitch and stole third. Dalton flied out to deep center field and Caleb Dalton walked.
Caleb Dalton broke to steal second. Gilkey fired a throw to second base, but neither the shortstop nor second baseman covered and the ball sailed into center field and McCrary came home with the Chiefs’ second run.
“That’s a called play,” Green said. “If we have somebody there (covering second), that kid was halfway to second, so he’s out and the inning is over. It didn’t work out because of miscommunication, but that didn’t beat us. I thought our hitting was what killed us.”
When center-fielder Tre Coleman overran the ball charging toward the infield, Caleb Dalton came around to score on that miscue, pushing Sequoyah’s lead to 3-1.
Up 5-1, McCrary reached on another Coleman misplay – he dropped the ball while fighting falling rain – and scored on Garrett Dalton’s single to left.
“Winning the region is humongous for Sequoyah High and the people of Monroe County,” Schrock said. “To host a (Sectional) game of that magnitude under the lights is going to be a lot of fun. We’ll play with confidence and see what happens.”
Sequoyah 001 022 1 – 6 6 2
Hixson 001 000 0 – 1 2 5
Watson, G. Dalton (6) and C. Dalton; Moylan, Jones (7) and Gilkey.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)