MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Boyd-Buchanan scored six runs in the second inning and cruised to an 11-1 six-inning victory over Forrest behind the three-hit pitching of unbeaten Brandon Willingham on Tuesday in the first round of the TSSAA Class A state baseball tournament at Middle Tennessee Christian School.
Nathan Murrell sparked the Bucs’ early uprising with a run-scoring double in the first inning and a two-run single in the second. Hunter Payne, who struck out to start the second, singled to left to drive in two runs in that inning.
“I was glad to get us going,” Murrell said, “and everyone started hitting after that.”
Jim Cardwell had a sacrifice fly and Seth Rogers, who walked with one out to trigger the six-run outburst and eventually scored on catcher Austin Harber’s throwing error, one of six miscues the Rockets committed in the run-rule shortened game before a packed house at Joe Baron Field.
Boyd-Buchanan (29-9) advances to the second round on Wednesday and will play Jackson Christian (35-7) on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. Eastern time. Jackson Christian edged Goodpasture, 3-1.
“If you’re going to win a state tournament, you’ve got to win that first game,” Bucs coach Josh Rider said. “It’s very difficult to come out of the loser’s bracket.”
That’s exactly what Forrest (28-13), which knocked off No. 2-ranked Summertown in the sectional to reach the state tournament, must do – come out of the loser’s bracket.
“I’m not making excuses,” Forrest coach Chris Parker said, “but we’re a small, rural, country school and all our kids live within 15 minutes of the school. It’s hard to be in a game against a lineup of all-stars from all over Chattanooga.
They got six runs in the second inning and when you’re playing on an uneven field it’s hard to come back from that. I’m trying to be the voice of all the other public schools. We’ll regroup and come back (Wednesday).”
With plenty of run support, Willingham picked up his 10th win of the season without a loss. Willingham and reliever Josh Antwine, who started the game behind the plate, combined on a three-hitter.
Willingham walked four – three in the first two innings – and struck out one. He relied on a flawless defense that turned two double plays to help him out. Two of Willingham’s walks were in the first inning, but the hard-throwing right-hander induced a double-play grounder that stranded a Rockets runner at third.
“Defense was the real story of this game,” the big sophomore said. “There’s not a better defense in the state than ours.”
The Rockets put two runners on in the second, but Willingham got out of the inning with his first strikeout. He gave up a leadoff single to Alex Brewer, whose three-run homer beat Summertown last week, to start the third, but Willingham retired the next three on a pop-up and two groundouts.
With one out in the fourth, Forrest’s Slayton Wild walked, went to third on Kennedy Mathis’ double and scored on a groundout.
“I was nervous early in the game,” Willingham said, “and I didn’t have my good stuff. I think the nerves played a part in that. The nerves spiked again when they got some runners on and they finally got a run in the fourth.”
Josh Antwine, who started the game behind the plate, came on in relief to pitch the fifth. He struck out Brewer, gave up a single to Jacob Daughrity and Landon Jones hit into a double play.
“I thought Brandon struggled and didn’t really pitch well,” Rider said. “His 10th win was pretty good though. And the ninth against South Pittsburg that got us here was pretty good, too.”
The game was decided in the second inning.
The Bucs, out of the same District 5-A that produced championship finalist Silverdale in 2013, had taken a 1-0 lead in the first when Jim Cardwell was hit by a pitch, stole second and scored on Murrell’s double to right field.
An inning later, Skyler Anderson walked and raced to third when an attempted pickoff throw from pitcher Kennedy Mathis sailed wide for an error. Seth Rogers and Antwine each walked on 3-2 pitches.
Cardwell’s sacrifice fly to right pushed Anderson home and Rogers scored on catcher Austin Harber’s throwing error.
Cade Evans reached on an infield hit and Murrell ripped a single to right to score Evans and Antwine, stretching the Bucs’ lead to 5-0.
Colby Morgan followed Murrell’s hit with a single to left, E.J. Matthews reached on another infield error and Payne hit to left scored two more runs.
“That inning started with our seven, eight and nine hitters getting walks and the eight and nine guys were down 0-2 in the count,” Rider said. “The bottom of the lineup set the tone for that inning.”
The Bucs, stretching their winning streak to 16 games, put the TSSAA mercy rule into effect with a four-run sixth inning.
Anderson walked and Rogers singled ahead of Antwine’s groundout. Cardwell was hit by a pitch a second time and Evans’ bunt was misplayed by pitcher Johnathon Lykins, allowing Rogers to score the Bucs’ eighth run.
Cardwell stole third and scored on a wild pitch and Morgan’s RBI double ended the game.
“The bottom half of our lineup is always stout,” Willingham said. “We’ve got tough guys to get out from one through nine.”
Forrest 000 100 – 1 3 6
Boyd-Buchanan 160 04x – 11 7 0
Mathis, Byrd (2), Garvin (3), Yelensky (4), Lykins (5) and Harber. Willingham, Antwine (5) and Antwine, Payne (5)
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)