COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Cookeville struck early and often.
Soddy-Daisy’s bats didn’t come to life until the sixth inning.
“We waited too late,” said left fielder Caden Ricketts, who had three of the Trojans’ 10 hits.
Cookeville starter Alex Jones silenced Soddy-Daisy bats for five innings while his teammates built a 5-0 lead and the Cavaliers beat the Trojans, 8-4, to capture the Region 3-AAA baseball championship on a chilly Thursday night.
Soddy-Daisy’s four runs came in the sixth and seventh innings.
“Cookeville had a good approach at the plate and made us pay,” Trojans coach Jared Hensley said. “Over the first five innings our guys had the worst approach we’ve had in three weeks.
“In the fourth and fifth innings I sensed in the dugout a panic and pressure I haven’t felt all season. After the fifth inning I challenged them and they responded with some hits and runs.”
Soddy-Daisy (21-17), the District 5-AAA runner-up, will be back on the road Friday to face Region 4-AAA champion Riverdale (28-9) at 7 p.m. Eastern in a Sectional matchup. Cookeville (29-8) will host 4-AAA runner-up Tullahoma, a 9-2 loser to Riverdale.
Riverdale beat Tullahoma, 9-2.
Friday winners advance to the state tournament next week in Murfreesboro.
Cookeville’s first three batters – Jackson Paisley, Ben Shelton and James Paisley – caused Trojans starter Ryan Mahaffey problems, combining to go 7-for-9 with five runs scored and three RBIs.
There wasn’t an extra base hit in the bunch – the only Cavalier hit that wasn’t a single in the game was Clay Talkington’s two-out double in the fifth.
“That’s been our blueprint all season,” said Shelton, the Cavaliers’ catcher who had three successive singles before striking out in the sixth. “We haven’t played long ball all year, but we’re good about stringing together singles.”
The Cavaliers, who shut out 5-AAA champion Bradley Central, 5-0, on Monday, scored twice in the first inning on Ryan Julian’s groundout and Jacob Edgington’s two-out single up the middle off Mahaffey.
Cookeville, which lost to Warren County in the District 6-AAA title game, added a run in the second on Shelton’s single and left the bases loaded when Mahaffey struck out Julian.
The Paisleys each had RBI singles in the fourth inning that gave Jones plenty of breathing room at 5-0.
“Alex is a senior and has been here before,” Cookeville coach Brent “Butch” Chaffin said of his starter. “He was great tonight. We knew Soddy-Daisy would have a quality guy pitching and I told our guys to be aggressive and they did that.”
Not until the fifth inning did Soddy-Daisy have more than one runner on base at the same time.
Austin Hickey reached on an infield error in the first and went to second on the wide throw to first. He stayed at second when Dillon Clift struck out and Gavin Rogers flied out to right.
After Ricketts double in the second, he moved to third on a groundout and was stranded when Cale Morgan flied out to center.
Hickey drew a two-out walk and Clift flied out to end the third inning.
Jones retired the Trojans in order in the fourth.
With one out in the fifth, Morgan and Tre Carter, the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters in the lineup, each singled. Dev DeMatteo popped out to shortstop James Paisley, whose throw back to first trying to double off Carter sailed wide of the mark and both runners advanced.
Hickey popped out to first baseman Edgington in foul territory.
Soddy-Daisy finally got to Jones (3-2) in the sixth for two runs.
Clift singled to left and Jones fanned Rogers and Andy Wright. Ricketts’s bloop single pushed Levi Thornton, running for Clift, to third. Christian Amos walked to load the bases and Morgan’s double drove in two runs to put a dent in the Cavaliers’ five-run lead.
“Their pitcher threw a lot of strikes and kept the ball down and away,” Ricketts said. “Late in the game we started hitting the ball to the backside and showed some fight by scoring a few runs. But you can’t win a ballgame when you start hitting in the sixth inning.”
The Trojans stranded runners at second and third when Carter flied out to right.
Cookeville, however, ripped the Trojans’ momentum away by extending the lead to 8-2 with three runs – two were earned – in the bottom of the sixth.
Jackson Paisley walked ahead of Shelton’s strikeout and James Paisley singled to left-center. Julian punched a RBI single to left to chase Mahaffey.
Edgington greeted Trojans reliever Oz Perez with a run-scoring single to left. When Ricketts misplayed the ball in the outfield, Julian scored and Edgington wound up at second. Perez retired Blaine Smith on a pop-up and Talkington flied out to right.
“I was happy with our approach at the plate,” Chaffin said. “Our guys were up there hunting pitches to hit. We’ve been swinging the bats really well over the last 10 days.”
Said Jackson Paisley, “Singles are all we need, really. We don’t have many guys that are gap-hitters. We usually string together singles and produce some runs. We started hitting a lot better in the (district) tournament and that has really helped us.”
As it turned out, the Trojans at least went down swinging by continuing their late-arriving aggressiveness with four more hits off Jones.
With one out Hickey and Clift each singled to the right side. Rogers flied out, but Wright’s sharp first-pitch single to left scored Hickey with the Trojans’ third run. Ricketts stroked the next pitch for a hit that pushed courtesy runner Jimbo Collins across to make it 8-4.
When Jones walked Amos to load the bases, Chaffin got to the mound quickly and brought Julian in from right field to make a relief appearance.
Julian struck out Morgan to end the game.
The season is now down to a win-or-go home situation for every team in the Sectional round.
“Riverdale is going to be very well-coached and it will be a tall task for us,” Hensley said. “But we’re one of 16 teams left in Triple A. There are more than a hundred teams that would love to walk over to Riverdale and be able to play Friday night.
“We’ll put this one behind us and go to Murfreesboro and try to win a game.”
Hensley will pitch Amos, the ace of Soddy-Daisy’s pitching staff, against Riverdale. Amos threw a complete-game three-hitter in a 12-2 upset of 6-AAA champion Warren County on Monday and takes an 8-0 record and an ERA below 1.00 into the game.
Riverdale is riding a 13-game winning streak.
NOTE: Amos, Ricketts and Mahaffey have all signed scholarships with Cleveland State Community College.
Soddy-Daisy 000 002 2 – 4 10 1
Cookeville 210 203 x – 8 13 2
Mahaffey, Perez (6) and Clift; Jones, Julian (7) and Shelton.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)