The Hixson Wildcats beat the top-seeded Central Purple Pounders twice this week in the District 6-AA baseball tournament and senior left fielder John Mulkey was the hero both times.
It was his arm in Monday's 2-1 victory as he threw out a man at third to end the game on a double play after making a spectacular running catch.
Two days later it was his bat that keyed Hixson's 2-0 victory as the Wildcats captured their first tournament title since 2005.
"We came out with a lot of momentum and got key hits when we had to have them," Mulkey said after the Wildcats had improved to 21-11 with the shutout win.
"I didn't have a very good first at-bat as I struck out, but I adjusted after that and did what I needed to do," he added.
Mulkey, the number-eight hitter in the Hixson lineup, drove in the first run in the fourth with a two-out single up the middle. Gill Brown, who had reached on a Central error to lead off the inning, advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Bradley Burris before Mulkey came through with two outs.
Then in the bottom of the sixth (Hixson was the home team since they came out of the winners bracket), Burris beat out an infield single with one out before going to second on a groundout by Conner Atwood. Mulkey came through in the clutch again as he beat hustled down the line and beat out an infield hit as Burris raced around to score.
Two runs were more than enough for senior right-hander Alex Prewitt, who pitched one of this best games of the season as he improved to 6-1.
"We came through again, but he key for me was just hanging in there. I was pumped and ready to go. This may have been one of my best games of the year," he nodded.
Prewitt limited the Purple Pounders to just two hits.
Dakota Fowler led off the first with a single while losing pitcher Bret Hardy led off the Central sixth with a single. On both occasions, they advanced to second on perfectly-executed sacrifice bunts, but both were stranded as Prewitt retired the next two hitters in both innings.
It must have been a pleasant trip down memory lane for first-year Hixson coach Colton Green, who was a member of this team back in 2008 when they advanced to the region the last time and also in 2005 when they won their last tournament title.
Green has been pushing all the right buttons and making all the right calls as the Wildcats have enjoyed one of their best seasons ever.
"It was a good one," the soft-spoken coach said following the game that lasted just 92 minutes.
"Alex did what he's been doing all season as he put up another zero. That last run was huge as it kept our momentum going, but pitching and clutch hitting have been the key for us all year and that was the case again today.
"I knew it would be another close game, but this was probably his best game considering the situation," the coach said about Prewitt.
"And it's always nice to play at home in the first round of the region," he concluded with a smile.
Central coach Glen Carter has said that his team's lack of offense has been its biggest problem all year. Such was the case again on Wednesday.
"We just can't hit. Two hits just won't win a baseball game. When my guy only gives up two runs, you should be in a good position to win...unless you only get two hits," Carter said after his team dropped to 17-19 for the season.
"We had three leadoff hitters get on and they all got sacrificed to second, but we never got another hit to get them in. We're just not swinging the bats with authority and we have no approach at the plate, so it's frustrating.
"On a more positive note, we won the game we had to win last night, so that took the pressure off of today's game. We're still playing and that's the bright spot for us," Carter added.
While Prewitt was the winner with his second straight complete game of the tournament, Hardy was tagged with the loss despite allowing just five hits and four walks. He also had five strikeouts.
Prewitt allowed two hits and two walks while also hitting a pair. He finished with four strikeouts.
Hixson will be at home on Monday for the opening game of region play against the Loudon-Sequoyah loser while Central will be on the road the same day at the home of the District 5-AA winner.
CENTRAL 000 000 0 -- 0 2 2
HIXSON 000 101 x -- 2 5 0
Hardy and Lowe; Prewitt and Gilkey.
(email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@Comcast.net)