Sevier County returns to Region 1-AAA final
Sevier County topped Science Hill 8-2 in a Region 1-AAA Tournament semifinal night at Cliff Davis Field.
"That’s about as good as it gets," said Smoky Bears coach Casey Taylor. "Facing a premier team, an annual powerhouse like Science Hill, we knew we were going to have our hands full.
"But we think we’re a pretty good team as well ... and we played great."
Sevier County (28-12) drew first blood with a three-run bottom of the first.
"We got off to a good start, and that was key for us," said Taylor.
Dalton Ford got things started by hustling for a one-out infield hit, and when Dallas Gossett’s grounder to short was booted, the Bears were in business with runners at first and second still with just one out.
SCHS starting pitcher Nick Osborne helped his own cause with an RBI single to left, and when the cut-off throw to third base sailed high, Gossett was also able to score for a 2-0 Sevier County lead. Osborne settled in at third base on the play.
Bears catcher Devante Matthews wasted little time adding to the SCHS edge when he followed with an RBI single to right to make it 3-0 at the end of one.
The Hilltoppers (30-9) were able to respond with a two-out rally in the top of the second, however, that led to some of the shakiest moments of the night for Sevier County.
After some quick work for two outs, Osborne began struggling to find the strike zone and walked the bases loaded for Science Hill’s J.T. Torbett.
Torbett broke the Hilltoppers’ egg on the scoreboard with an RBI walk, and Kyle Ouellette immediately followed with an RBI hit-by-pitch to cut the SCHS lead to 3-2.
Still in a bases-loaded jam, the Bears stuck with Osborne, who somehow regained his composure to force Science Hill’s Landon Knack into an inning-ending pop out to left that preserved a one-run SCHS edge heading into the bottom of the second.
But when Osborne walked four straight batters and then hit another, the SCHS coaching staff had some serious thoughts about going to the bullpen early.
"There was quite a bit of doubt," said Taylor. "But once (Osborne) settled back in, he went above and beyond what we were asking him to do."
Osborne went on to work six solid innings, allowing just the two earned runs in the second frame. He struck out two and finished with seven walks and a hit batter.
"We asked (Osborne) to give us three, or maybe four innings," said Taylor. "But he left us no choice but to stay with him (for six). What an effort on his part."
The Bears wasted no time rebuilding their lead with a big four-run bottom of the second.
Charlie Brown got things going with a lead-off walk, Alan Silva followed with a one-out single to right, and Ford loaded the bases on another single to right.
Gossett than came up huge on a 10-pitch at-bat that finally ended with a two-RBI line-drive double to the left field wall that made it 5-2 Bears and left two runners in scoring position.
"Gossett had just an absolute grind-out at-bat," said Taylor. "That was a huge sequence for us from a momentum standpoint."
Osborne then loaded the bases by drawing a walk.
And Matthews followed with the second huge hit of the inning, a two-RBI single to right that gave the Bears a 7-2 lead heading into the third frame. The Hilltoppers pulled starting pitcher Daniel Sweeney after Matthews’ hit.
Sevier County added to its lead with a run in the bottom of the fourth.
Pinch-hitter Garrett Gay got things going with a one-out double to right, and Kody Paul came through with a two-out RBI double also to right that made it 8-2 Bears heading into the fifth frame.
Matthews took the mound for Sevier County in the top of the seventh and got some great defensive support to shut down any Hilltopper hope for a comeback.
First baseman Austin Conner was pulled off the bag by a throw from short, but still managed to retire Ouellette with an airborne spinning tag of the Science Hill runner for the first out of the inning.
Not to be outdone, Paul then made a diving catch for the second out that saved a potential extra-base hit, before Matthews retired the side in order with a strike out of Matt Thigpen to end the Science Hill season and guarantee the Bears a one-game shot at the upcoming state tournament in Murfreesboro.
"You give these good teams a little bit, and they’re going to come back," said Taylor. "For Austin to make that good glove play, and for Kody to make that good play, that was just kinda like icing on the cake for us."
Sevier County will host Dobyns-Bennett (31-4-1) in the Region 1-AAA Championship , before a TBA do-or-die sectional contest night.