Single runs were the name of the game at Sale Creek Monday night.
Turns out the host Panthers ended the game with a 3-2 advantage as they advanced to Wednesday’s Region 3-A final with a one-run win over the South Pittsburg Pirates.
It’s been a historical season for the Panthers as they are now 21-6-1 for the season, four more wins than had ever been recorded in Sale Creek baseball.
And now they will be hosting a region final on Wednesday, facing Lookout Valley, winner over Whitwell, in another first for the Panthers.
Hits were few and far between as both teams had four apiece. But in the category that counts the most, Sale Creek won with its third single run of the game with two outs in the fifth.
It’s been a dream-come-true season for coach Jimmy Pierce and his Panthers. But they’ve put together a solid team with quality players at every position and they’re playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played.
And they’re being rewarded for hard work as the wins just keep adding up.
“We’re breaking a school record with every game we win at this point, but this was a win or go home game for us,” Pierce said shortly after the game ended.
“Now if we can just win two more games, we can take a trip to Murfreesboro for the state tournament. Our pitching has been solid all year and we play pretty good defense behind them most of the time.
“But this is the first team from Sale Creek to ever advance to the region final, so we’ll just wait and see what happens,” the head coach nodded.
South Pittsburg coach J.D. Genter felt like his team deserved a better fate than a loss that ended their season at 16-15.
“That was a good ball game. We made a couple of mistakes they took advantage of, but that’s what happens in baseball,” he began before talking to his team following the final out.
“We left several runners on base as we just didn’t get that key hit, but we deserved better as none of their runs were earned. And I hate it that we came up short,” Genter added.
Catcher Drew Hillian, who plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played as he hustles to first base on every at-bat and he appears to thoroughly enjoy his time on the field.
He drew a one-out walk in the first and went to third on a stolen base and a throwing error by the South Pittsburg catcher. Camden Penny’s single to left drove him home with the first run of the game.
Then in the bottom of the fourth, Penny received a leadoff walk and stole second. He broke for third on the next pitch and just kept running when the throw sailed into left field.
Hillian scored the eventual game-winning run in the fifth when he got hit by a pitch with two outs. A boot by the South Pittsburg shortstop allowed the stocky senior to race home with what turned out to be the winning run.
The Pirates scored single runs in the fourth and fifth innings, but missed a chance for more as they left two runners stranded in both of those innings.
Coy Hackney singled with two outs in the fourth and scored on a double by Britton Case. Then in the fifth, Zach Tierney led off with a single and advanced to second when it was misplayed in left. After going to third on a sacrifice bunt by Jack Henson, a single from Luke Rector sent Tierney home.
Penny was the winning pitcher as he worked five innings and allowed both runs on four hits. He also had a pair of strikeouts and three walks and he also hit a batter.
Jakob Elrod came in and pitched the final two innings without giving up anything as he walked two while striking out five of the six batters he faced. He’s had a great season and is a finalist for Class A Mr. Baseball.
He’s also one of three Sale Creek players who will be playing at Bryan next fall, joining Hillian and Penny at the Dayton school.
The Panthers had a chance to add to their lead in the sixth, but left the bases loaded instead.
Pinch-hitter Brayden Grimes and Javan O’Kelley both walked, signaling the end for Pirate starter Kamden Wellington. Rector retired the first two hitters he faced before walking Justin Griffin to load the sacks, but the threat ended with Garrett Pickett grounded to short.
SOUTH PITTSBURG 000 110 0 – 2 4 3
SALE CREEK 100 110 x – 3 4 1
Wellington, Rector (6) and Case; Penny, Elrod (6) and Hillian.
(email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)