Austin Conner's 10th-inning homer lifts Sevier County to District 2-AAA title
Austin Conner wasn’t sure if the ball would get out of the park.
But the Sevier County junior knew it was game over the instant he made contact.
“It’s just a huge adrenaline rush,” Conner said. “You don’t know what to think. I said a bunch of stuff coming around first. I don’t even know what was coming out of my mouth. I was so excited. I didn’t know what to think really.”
Connor’s three-run shot to center in the bottom of the 10th lifted the Smoky Bears to an 8-5 victory over Morristown West and the District 2-AAA title. A game that was full of highs and lows was finished, abruptly, with one swing from Conner.
“This kid is one of our top four workers,” said Bears coach Casey Taylor. “He knows what we’re doing here. He knows the way. He shows the way. He goes the way. He’s one of our leaders per se out of our top four guys. For him to be in that moment and execute that, what an absolute finish. That’s something he’ll cherish for the rest of his life.”
Conner was the redeemer for a Sevier County team that had lost the district title to this very Trojan team in extra innings a year ago. Now, the Bears get a home game Monday in the Region 1-AAA tournament against Science Hill while Morristown West must travel to Dobyns-Bennett.
Wednesday’s game had the makings of a Sevier County blowout early. Pitcher Nick Osborne cruised through the first two innings while the Bears built a five-run lead, all with two outs. Four hits in the first, including a two-run single from Charlie Brown, put Sevier County up 4-0 before Dallas Gossett, who had three hits and two runs in the game, scored on a passed ball after tripling in the second.
But the Trojans bounced right back, getting a three-run double from Will Heflin in a four-run third. Heflin tied the game two innings later, scoring when Devante Matthews tried to throw him out at third and the ball went into the outfield.
“We’ve stressed all year working on the poise factor,” said West coach Nick Morgan. “Here the last two or three weeks our guys have really bought in, really bounced back and been great competitors.”
The rest of the game was about self-preservation. Matthews came in for Osborne later in the fifth, striking out the first four batters he faced and escaping situations with runners in scoring position three times. Trojans starter Will Gardner was strong over his last four innings, allowing just three baserunners and one hit from the third through the sixth.
Heflin came in to relieve Gardner in the seventh and frustrated Sevier County. His most miraculous escape was in the eighth when the Bears loaded the bases with no outs. Osborne got tagged out at home before Kody Paul struck out and Matthews was thrown out trying to get back to third.
“Coach Taylor wasn’t mad at all,” Matthews said. “He understood the situation. I was just trying to be an agressive baserunner, trying to draw a balk or something. It just didn’t turn out our way.”
That aggression paid off two innings later. Dalton Ford lead off the 10th with a single before Dallas Gossett moved him over with a bunt. Heflin intentionally walked Nick Osborne and Conner came up two batters later with two outs. He promptly blasted an 0-1 pitch out of the park.
“I knew once it came off the bat,” Conner said. “I caught it solid. I swung pretty hard. I knew once it came off the bat we won.”