Faces were long and hearts were a little heavy, but winning a Region 3-AA baseball title on Wednesday night did a lot to lift the spirit of the Signal Mountain baseball team.
At least for a little while.
The entire Signal Mountain community is trying to get a grip on the unexpected death earlier in the week of Lee Nagle, a 2016 graduate who was a three-year starter for the Eagles.
Despite the difficulty of the situation, the Eagles were able to prevail with a 5-3 win over Meigs County, a scrappy team that had beaten District 6-AA champ Hixson on Monday.
With the win, the Eagles will play at home again on Friday against Grundy County, an old District 7-AA foe that beat Smith County in the Region 4-AA game earlier in the day.
“As you know, we were playing with heavy hearts tonight, but I thought we did a good job of controlling our emotions. This is a huge win for our kids,” said Signal Mountain coach Josh Gandy after his team had improved to 21-14 for the season.
“Drew Lowry’s triple got us going in the first inning while Tucker Smith came in and got us out of a real mess in the fifth that totally changed the momentum of the game. I thought we took care of business defensively, but Meigs is a scrappy bunch.
“They forced us to throw a lot of pitches under stressful conditions, but we were able to handle it. We talked about this game after losing to Hixson in the district finals, so winning tonight was one of our goals. And to be able to play another home game on Friday is really special,” he added.
The Eagles took the lead with three runs in the first, only to watch as the Tigers evened the score in the top of the second.
Carter Cannon’s RBI-single with two outs in the third drove in what turned out to be the ultimate winning run, but the Eagles added one more for insurance in the fifth.
Will Remke was the second of four pitchers for the Eagles and he was the winner after pitching the third and fourth innings. He allowed an infield single and a walk to start the fifth, but Smith came in and got a pop to second for the first out before snuffing that threat with two strikeouts.
Scott Payne led off the Signal first with a sharp single to left and scored a minute later when Lowry ripped a triple off the fence in left-center. Lowry scored the second run with a fly was dropped in right while the third run crossed the plate when Cannon grounded to short for the second out.
Aaron Swafford led off the Meigs’ second with a triple and he scored on a grounder to first. E.J. Boshears then walked before Aaron Johnson reached on an infield single with two outs. Brantley Baker’s single drove in Boshears to make it 3-2.
Hunter Burke then walked to load the bases before Caleb Hyde got hit by a pitch to drive in Johnson with the tying run.
Lowry doubled with one out in the third and scored on Cannon’s single while the final run in the fifth scored without the benefit of a hit. Landon Edwards reached on the first of two errors in the inning and later scored when Daulton Cunningham reached on the second miscue.
It was still anyone’s game at that point as Signal’s lead was just 5-3, but Lowry came in and finished it out with two innings of hitless relief. His only mistake was a hit batter, but he finished with four strikeouts, including the side in the seventh.
Meigs County coach Tyler Roberts felt like starting pitcher Johnson pitched well enough to win, but his team left too many men stranded as they finished the game with 11 left standing.
“That’s a tough one, but we just didn’t capitalize on our opportunities at the plate. You can’t beat a good team leaving that many runners out there and it cost us,” Roberts said after his team’s record dropped to 23-8.
“I thought Aaron pitched well enough to win, but we’ll just have to put this one behind us and get ready for Friday. We’ve advanced to the state before without winning the district or the region titles, so our ultimate goal is to be in Murfreesboro next week,” he said with a positive note.
While Remke was the winning pitcher, Johnson was the loser after allowing five runs on five hits. He struck out two and also walked a pair.
Lowry was the only Signal Mountain player with two hits while Swafford’s triple was the only extra-base hit for the Tigers. Gavin Lawson, Johnson, Baker and Herd all had one single each.
MEIGS COUNTY 030 000 0 – 3 5 3
SIGNAL MOUNTAIN 301 010 x – 5 5 1
Johnson and Moon; Farr, Remke (3), Smith (5), Lowry (6) and Cannon.
(email John Hunt at email@example.com)