LEBANON, Tenn. – McCallie got its revenge Wednesday.
The Blue Tornado held off rallying Baylor with a game-ending double play and beat the Red Raiders, 3-2, in the Division II-AA winner’s bracket final to earn a spot in Thursday’s TSSAA state championship game at Middle Tennessee State University.
McCallie (27-10), which has won three consecutive times with game-ending double plays, will play the Memphis University School in the title game at Reese Smith Jr. Field on the MTSU campus at 1:30 p.m.
“The goal all year was to get to Murfreesboro and the state tournament,” Blue Tornado coach Greg Payne said, “and if we can win one more game, that will be OK with me.”
MUS, which eliminated Memphis Christian Brothers, 5-2, in Wednesday’s first game at Wilson Central High School, came back and defeated Baylor, 6-5, for the right to play the Blue Tornado for the title.
McCallie did not play MUS (23-15) during the regular season.
Blue Tornado senior right-hander Tyler Payne handcuffed the Red Raiders over six innings, limiting the heated rival to four hits – two of which came in the first inning. Payne, relying on a knee-buckling curve and cutter to stymie Baylor’s bats, hit Taylor Maxey and walked Andrew Belcher to start the Red Raiders’ seventh.
Hunter Holland reached on an error to load the bases and Payne called on Spencer Morgan to relieve Tyler Payne, the coach’s son. Morgan walked Alex Armstrong to force in Baylor’s first run.
Coach Payne put Cole Songer on the mound. Songer induced Sterling Stewart into a fielder’s choice, with Belcher scoring to trim McCallie’s lead to 3-2.
On a 0-1 pitch, Songer got Blake Layne to ground sharply to second baseman William Korn, who flipped to shortstop John Hennen and the throw to first was in time to complete the twin killing that ended the game in dramatic fashion.
“Last year I had a couple of games like this situation and all I do is try to throw strikes and get groundballs and let the defense work behind me,” Songer said. “This (reaching the title game) is what we’ve wanted all season long and when the umpire signaled out on the double play ball that was great.”
Payne was in and out of trouble in varying degrees over the first six innings.
In the first, he gave up a single to Alex Armstrong that put runners at first and second with two out. Sterling Stewart followed with another hit, but Andrew Belcher, who reached on a fielder’s choice, was cut down at the plate on a throw from the outfield while trying to score.
Payne allowed three runners in the third, but kept the Red Raiders out of the scoring column. He retired Baylor 1-2-3 in the fourth and gave up a harmless two-out single to Hunter Holland in the fifth. Payne had two runners on with two out in the sixth and struck out Hunter Mercer to end that threat.
Much of Payne’s damage control was accomplished by using devastating curves and cutters that allowed him to strike out nine – he walked four.
“We knew Baylor was a fastball-hitting team,” Payne said, “so I relied on my curve, with some cutters mixed it because the pitchers have the same type spin, more than I’ve ever done. It was the best curve I’ve had all year.”
Greg Payne knows his son’s makeup and he left him on the mound battling until a reliever was needed in the seventh.
“It’s my son and I’m the coach, but I’m telling you he didn’t have his best stuff today, but he’s the mentally toughest kid I’ve ever coached,” the coach/father said. “His curve was great today and he threw it in any count.
“He took more pitches than I wanted to see because he went deep in the count a lot, but he kept battling through it.”
McCallie staked Payne to a 1-0 lead in the first when Tyler Payne coaxed a walk from Baylor starter Wilson McClendon. It was the first of three free passes for Payne, who stole second and third and scored on Christian Burnett’s groundout.
Still nursing the one-run advantage in the sixth, McCallie, which won its only TSSAA baseball championship in 1976 – Guy Buher was the Blue Tornado pitching star in those days, got a two-run single from Ethan Cady to push the lead to 3-0.
“I got a fastball inside and tried to choke it and hit it and get some RBIs,” said Cady, who was thrilled by helping McCallie reach the championship game. “It doesn’t matter who we play because we’re going to focus and go for the gold.”
Tyler Payne was appreciative of the insurance runs provided by Cady.
“He’s a sophomore and has probably the second-highest batting average on the team,” Payne said. “He probably was a little nervous up there, but he got the hit we needed.”
Baylor swept a three-game series from McCalliie just prior to the playoffs beginning by scores of 3-2, 4-3 and 12-0.
"We're in the championship game," Tyler Payne said right after the game, "and if we play Baylor again that would be nice.
It won't happen, though.
In its elimination loss, Baylor had a 5-2 lead going into the top of the seventh. That’s when the Owls exploded for four runs to go ahead-6-5.
Michael Fitzsimmons went the distance for MUS, limiting the Red Raiders to four hits while striking out six and walking four.
Baylor starter Hunter Mercer worked 5.1 innings and gave up seven hits. He struck out two and walked two. Adam Brogdon, the third Baylor pitcher, suffered the loss.
Baylor 000 000 2 – 2 4 1
McCallie 100 002 x – 3 3 2
McClendon, Maxey (6) and Layne; Payne, Morgan (7), Songer (7) and Burnett.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)