The two top-seeded teams both won in the District 6-AA baseball tournament at Central, but it wasn't easy and there was even a little controversy along the way.
Top-seed Central had to score the winning run in the bottom of the seventh to subdue Red Bank by a 5-4 final while second-seeded Hixson had to overcome an early three-run deficit to beat up-and-coming Tyner by an 8-3 final.
The tournament continues on Monday with Red Bank and Tyner meet in the losers bracket at 4:30 while Central and Hixson square off at 7.
The Red Bank-Tyner winner will meet the Central-Hixson loser on Tuesday at 5 while championship game is set for 5 p.m. on Wednesday. If the winner from the losers bracket wins on Wednesday, the second game would immediately follow.
CENTRAL 5, RED BANK 4: These two teams have played three times this spring and the Purple Pounders have won them all...by the same 5-4 final.
Saturday's game may have been a little bit more intense as there was certainly more on the line, but the hosts found a way to win.
The game was deadlocked at 4-4 in the middle of the sixth before Central loaded the bases with nobody out.
That's when things got interesting and just a little bit controversial.
Hayden Kaylor led off with a walk and was replaced by courtesy runner Cody Reels. Scout Morgan reached on a bunt single before Brett Hardy reached on an error when the throw to first following another bunt was dropped to load the bases.
Just when it appeared that the Lions were ready to pitch in the white towel, starting pitcher Blake Winstead reached down deep and struck out the next two batters. Andrew McDaniel then ripped a hard grounder up the middle, which deflected off Winstead's glove toward the first-base side of second.
Hunter Romans charged to field the loose ball when he collided with Jake Hood, who was running for Hardy. After a lengthy discussion with Red Bank coach Trey Hicks, Hood was called out for interference and what looked like the fifth run was erased from the scoreboard.
Central coach Glenn Carter came out and offered his opinion to both umpires, but nothing changed as the Lions dodged a bullet.
Red Bank wasn't so fortunate in the bottom of the seventh.
Tyler Lowe started off the inning by reaching second when the throw to first following a dropped third strike sailed into right field. Gabe Fomby grounded to second as courtesy runner Logan Petty raced to third before trotting home with the game-winner two pitches later when Matt Ford ripped a sharp single to left.
"We had a lot of chances to score early on, but we watched too many third strikes go by," Carter said after the see-saw game finally ended.
"It was an ugly game as far as earned runs were concerned, but both pitchers threw the ball well. We missed our biggest chance in the bottom of the sixth. Andrew McDaniel cost us two runs early, but he beat out an infield hit in the fifth and really hustled to score from first when the pickoff attempt was bad.
"Then in the seventh, I told Matt Ford that all we needed was good contact. He choked up on the bat and got the game-winning hit. You just never know what's going to happen in a situation like this, but a win is a win and we'll take it. We overcame a lot of mistakes, but I'm just happy that we won," Carter nodded.
Red Bank's Hicks could only stand at the edge of his dugout and stare into the distance, thinking about what could have been, but wasn't.
"I think that Central may have had one earned run and that was on the homer in the first inning," Hicks began.
"We made some bad communication plays on defense, but we'll just have to come back and answer on Monday. This is the same thing that's killed us all year, but I loved the fight that we had. I thought that Blake Winstead pitched his tail off.
"We had every opportunity to score runs earlier, but we didn't do it and it came back to bite us," Hicks nodded.
Hardy and Winstead both went the distance with Hardy improving to 6-4 with one of his strongest performances of the season. He scattered five hits and walked a pair while striking out a season-high 11 Red Bank batters.
Winstead allowed five runs on nine hits with four walks and four strikeouts.
D.J. Hale was the only Red Bank player with two hits and both were doubles.
Dakota Fowler, whose solo homer to left in the first gave Central a 1-0 lead, added an RBI-single in the second while McDaniel and Ford also had two hits apiece.
HIXSON 8, TYNER 3: These two teams split two games in the regular season with the last one being a 2-0 shutout by Tyner's Chae Butler.
Butler was the starter for the Rams on Saturday, but he wasn't nearly as sharp as he's been this season as he walked seven Wildcats and only had two strikeouts.
Tyner got off to a good start with a single run in the first before adding two more in the second. But that was all the scoring the Rams would do as Hixson senior Alex Prewitt was more than up for the challenge as he allowed just one more hit after giving up four in those first two frames.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats tied the game with three runs in the third before adding one in the fourth, three more in the fifth and one more in the sixth.
Connor Atwood drove in the first with a fielder's choice while Tanner Moreland's double allowed Gil Brown to score. A walk to Chase Jones loaded the bases while another free pass to Prewitt drove in Atwood.
Atwood added a run-scoring single in the third as Hixson took the lead for the first time while run-scoring singles by Brown and Atwood in the fourth plus a Tyner error allowed the Wildcats to make it 7-3.
Then in the fifth, John Mulkey led off with a single and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Prewitt.
Hixson first-year coach Colton Green was thrilled with the final result.
"We got down early, but Alex kept making big pitches and getting outs. Our bats finally came around as we got some big hits at big times. We finally got the lead and just kept adding to it, but I couldn't be happier with the way we played," Green said after his team had improved to 19-11 with the win.
Tyner coach Rob Flowers felt like Butler's lack of control was a contributing factor to his team's defeat as they dropped to 17-13 with the loss.
"We've got to be able to locate pitches and it's tough to win when you give them all the extra chances with the walks," he began.
"We let them score more than we did, but give credit to Hixson as they made necessary adjustments and we didn't. Chae fought and battled all afternoon, but he didn't have his usual good stuff and we didn't pick him up.
"We got off to a nice start, but started pressing at the plate and that hurt," Flowers concluded.
Jones, Atwood and Mulkey both had two hits apiece as Hixson ended the game with eight.
Sadik Spence and Mike Haywood both had two hits for the Rams while Drake Parker also doubled for Tyner.
RED BANK 020 011 0 -- 4 5 5
CENTRAL 120 010 1 -- 5 9 2
Winstead and Moore; Hardy and Lowe.
TYNER 120 000 0 -- 3 5 2
HIXSON 031 310 x -- 8 8 1
Butler, McIntosh (6) and Wilson; Prewitt and Gilkey.
(Email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@Comcast.net)