Noah Howard had singled, grounded out and walked in three previous plate appearances. After the fourth inning walk, the Trojans’ senior moved up on a sacrifice bunt and got to third on a wild pitch but was stranded there.
A similar situation cropped up in the final inning of Monday’s tight ballgame against Warren County.
Howard singled to right, advanced when Seth Coffelt walked and raced to third on a wild pitch. While still on the ground, Howard saw the catcher’s errant throw zip past him and scurried home with the winning run in the eighth inning as Soddy-Daisy edged the Pioneers, 5-4, to win a Region 3-3A semifinal showdown at Tom Higgins Field.
“I don’t have words for how I felt at home plate,” Howard said Monday night after the thrilling contest before a packed house. “I do know it’s a great feeling and now we have to go to do it again in our next game.”
The Trojans also beat the Pioneers, 12-2, in the 2014 region semifinals.
With Monday’s victory, the Trojans (23-12) advanced to the region championship game on Wednesday and will host Bradley Central at 7 p.m.
“That means a lot to us,” said Aaron Couch, who went 4-for-4 and drove in Soddy-Daisy first four runs. “This is the farthest we’ve ever been in our four years here and we’re really excited.
Bradley Central (20-14) traveled to Cookeville and knocked off the District 6-3A champion Cavaliers, 6-1, and set up a rematch of the District 5-3A title game a week ago. The Trojans won that one, 8-6, as Coffelt’s two-run double highlighted a three-run seventh-inning rally.
“I know this is my first year coaching this team, but I’m proud of our district,” Trojans coach Jim Higgins said. “If you’re not on your ‘A’ game in our district other teams will make you play. It’s an extremely tough district and that kind of plays prepares us when we branch out and player teams from other districts.”
Said Bradley Central coach Travis Adams in a telephone interview on his way from Cookeville to Cleveland, “We’ll get our legs back (Tuesday) and regroup. It’s going to come down to who wants to host a sectional game or have to go to Murfreesboro and play. The stakes get higher and higher.”
Warren County reliever Braden Bottoms, who started behind the plate, struck out Landon Maynor to start the Trojans’ eighth. Howard hit Bottoms’ first pitch to right for his second hit. Coffelt drew a walk on a 3-1 offering. Bottoms uncorked a pitch into the dirt that got away from Pioneers catcher Ryland Holder, whose throw skipped past third baseman Ty Martin.
Howard got himself up and headed for home with the winning run.
“When the ball got away, I had to get to third and give the team a chance to score a run,” Howard said. “I had to process what coach Higgins was telling me and he was sending me home. I give him credit on that one.”
Higgins says the Trojans train on advancing on balls in the dirt by reading the plain of the ball.
“That was practice coming into playing during a game,” Higgins said. “Earlier, Noah moved to third on a ball in the dirt and got to third but didn’t score. A little luck went our way in the eighth and we took advantage of it.”
Left-fielder Aaron Couch, another senior, put the Trojans on his back and a 3-0 lead after three innings. Harrison Travis reached on an error and moved to second on the overthrow from shortstop Hunter Adams. Couch delivered a solid single to right-center field to score courtesy runner Dylan Caldwell with the game’s first run.
In the third, Hayden Maynor singled to left. Pioneers starter Dylan Ward threw over to first three straight times and Maynor stole second on the pitcher’s first throw to the plate. Ward struck out Spencer Gore and Jacob Jennings, both looking at a third called strike. He hit Travis. Couch then delivered a two-run double to center.
The Pioneers, held to one hit by Landon Maynor through four innings, erupted for four runs on five hits in the fifth, chasing the Trojans’ starter. Higgins brought in Wyatt Warren, who promptly walked a batter, threw a wild pitch and gave up a two-run double to cap the big inning.
Ethan Smith triggered the rally with an RBI double and Bottoms, who walked, later scored on a wild pitch.
In came “The Machine,” a nickname given to Guess for his ability to shut down rallies and close out games for the Trojans.
Guess, making his 17th appearance this season, gave up a Will Cantrell single but fanned Trace Adcock and Hunter Adams to end the threat.
He retired the Pioneers in order in the sixth. Warren County got a runner to second on a walk and sacrifice bunt in the seventh and Guess whiffed Holder and Cantrell to silence the Pioneers again.
Guess is now 3-2 with the win and 8-for-8 in save opportunities. His ERA is below 2.4 and pushed his strikeout total 61 (tops on the team) in 38.2 innings. His extended effort Monday came within an out of his longest of the season. Ironically, Guess worked four innings in a 10-7 win over the Pioneers in the Ooltewah Invitational on March 23.
“I could have gone as long as I needed to go tonight,” Guess said. “Coach Higgins and pitching coach Hunter Maynor keep us in shape just for situations like this. Whether it’s a one-run lead or tied, it’s my job to come in and throw strikes and let them hit it. I trust my defense.”
After Warren County (18-21) cracked the scoreboard, Couch got one of those runs back in the bottom of the inning. Travis doubled and Couch followed with a run-scoring single to right-center.
Couch now has 19 RBIs, second only to Travis’ 24.
In the eighth, Adcock struck out. Adams singled to right. Westen Wilson hit a groundball to Landon Maynor, who moved to shortstop after being relieved on the mound, at shortstop. Maynor’s throw pulled second baseman Jennings off the bag. Guess got Heath Kuykendall on a fly ball to center and Bottoms grounded out to end the inning.
That set the Trojans up for a last inning run for the win and a shot at the region title.
“Any quality team sets goals and this (a possible regional crown) is one we’ve talked about from day one in preseason,” Higgins said. “We’ve been battling to get here ever since.”
Bradley Central 6, Cookeville 1: Riley Black, the Bears’ pitching ace throughout the season, shook off a sub-par effort in relief in the team’s loss to Soddy-Daisy in the district tournament title game, with a sterling four-hitter of 6 2/3 innings on Monday.
Black gave up one run, struck out 11 and walked two.
“Riley kept the whole game in check,” Adams said. “He was in command from the start and kept their lineup down. We kind of fed off that too. The defense played well behind him we backed him up with 13 hits. When you’re doing that with someone that is shutting the other team down, it’s a good night for you.
“It was a clean game because your pitching shows up, the hitting shows up, the defense showed up and we didn’t screw up on the base paths. The kids needed to show up in an elimination game and they did.”
With Black having thrown 116 pitches (75 for strikes), Jake Prock came in and recorded the final out of the game on two pitches.
Black helped his own cause with a 4-for-5 performance at the plate with two doubles and three RBIs. Black’s batterymate, catcher Dylan Standifer, was 3 for 4 while Jake Thompson was 2 for 2 and Logan Weeks 2 for 4.
“I felt like we had a good scouting report on Cookeville and (assistants) Matt Day and Tanner Thompson did a good job breaking it down,” Adams said.
Black and Thompson had back-to-back RBI doubles in the first inning.
Black doubled to center in the third and courtesy runner Aiden McClary eventually scored on an error.
The Bears pushed three runs across in the fourth and Black’s two-run single highlighted the inning. Thompson’s hit sent Caden Sherlin home with the final run. Sherlin reached on a walk.
“The kids weren’t nervous but were focused,” Adams said. “After losing those district games they showed resilience tonight. Coming through on the road against a district champion with a proven record (22-9) is getting it done.”
Warren County 000 040 00 – 4 7 2
Soddy-Daisy 012 010 01 – 5 10 2
Ward, Bottoms (5) and Bottoms, Holder (5); Landon Maynor, Warren (5), Guess (5).
Bradley Central 201 300 0 – 6 13 0
Cookeville 000 100 0 – 1 4 2
Black, Prock (7) and Standifer; Key, Hall (4), Date (6) and Goolsby.
(Contact Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @larryfleming44)