TIgers are one step away
Editor's Note: For updates on the Tigers' Friday game in the state finals, follow @jasondavispress on Twitter
Exactly one year ago — to the day — the Pigeon Forge Tigers started planning for today’s game.
Three-hundred and sixty-five days ago, after being eliminated from the state tournament by Goodpasture Christian 3-0, the players and coaches began preparing for another shot.
Their time is now.
The Tigers (38-2 overall) defeated the Dyersburg Trojans 6-3 in extra innings Thursday afternoon at Smyrna High School to cement their place in today’s TSSAA Class AA State Championship Game against the defending champion squad from Goodpasture (36-3).
The Orange and Black used quality pitching from a pair of left-handed pitchers and timely hitting from the heart of their order to survive the tough third game of the tournament, when teams are faced with the strategy of playing to win while attempting to save their best pitchers for a championship game.
“(Lefties Thomas Simms and Colt Buchanan) have done that all year,” Tigers head coach Mike Guinn said of his pitcher’s resolve to win. “Thomas hasn’t been beaten, and Colt’s 8-1. They’ve had unbelievable years, and just (had) composure out there.”
Pigeon Forge fell behind early, after Dyersburg went on a two-out rally to score a pair of first inning runs.
Starting pitcher Koleman Roach, who’s not been a regular in the Tigers’ rotation, got two quick outs before allowing a single and hitting a batter. After getting behind 3-1 on Trojans’ No. 5 hitter Ryan Lee, Guinn decided to go to his bullpen and experienced sophomore lefty Thomas Simms.
After opening up with a ball to walk Lee, Simms surrendured a bloop single to Caleb Hinson, which plated two runs.
Simms stopped the bleeding, however, and enduced a popup to third base to end the threat.
“I have one of the best defenses in the state behind me, and it just gives me confidence to throw it over the plate and let them hit it,” the sophomore said.
The Tigers roared back in the bottom of the fourth.
Buchanan led the inning off with a walk, and moments later Roach singled, giving PF runners at the corners.
Max McCoig followed with an RBI double off the right fielder’s outstretched glove, getting the Tigers on the scoreboard.
Chase Effler tied the game in the very next at-bat with a single to left.
The Tigers took the lead 3-2 on a fielder’s choice from Jake Griffin, which scored McCoig.
With Simms humming along on the mound the score remained the same until the bottom of the sixth.
Will Bradshaw got a one-out single to set the table for Hinson, who ripped a two-out double into the left-center field gap. Bradshaw’s run knotted the score at 3-3, and Guinn was again forced to go to his pen and senior lefty Colt Buchanan.
Coming off a five-inning outing on Wednesday, the PF senior looked anything but tired. After getting down 3-0 to Justin Robbins, Buchanan stormed back and generated an inning-ending groundout to keep the score tied at 3-3.
Buchanan was lights out the rest of the way, and the Tigers got even more of what they needed from the big lefty in the top of the ninth inning.
With Scott LaFollette at first and two outs, senior catcher Ben Breazeale blasted a line drive single to right, breaking out of a slump and putting runners at the corners.
Buchanan strode to the plate hitless on the day, but came through in the clutch, drilling a first-pitch single to right to bring home LaFollette for the go-ahead run.
“Having that hit at the end, I’ve been in a slump all day — most of the tournament actually — and to get that game-winning hit, put the team ahead, it’s just a great feeling,” Buchanan said.
On the Trojans’ very next pitch, fellow senior Drake Byrd clobbered his team-high third hit of the day down the line for a two-run double. As Buchanan slid in to make it a 6-3 Tigers’ lead, the PF dugout went crazy.
After an easy bottom of the ninth to end the game, the Tigers were overjoyed they’d earned their spot in today’s championship.
“I can’t say enough (about Colt Buchanan),” Guinn said after the game. “He came in in the sixth inning, and he shut them down. He struck out four guys in 3 1/3 innings. He was outstanding.
“We pulled him last night after 70 pitches, (because) we knew we might need him in reserve right there.
“The funny thing is, it was the same thing as last year, he just came in and threw shutout inning after shutout inning. That’s a senior, and that was an unbelievable performance by him.”
Guinn also praised his hitters, who’ve played well throughout the tournament and continued that Thursday.
“When you see Max McCoig, Chase Effler and Jake Griffin coming up in the 7-8-9 holes they’ve just been torturing other teams,” the coach said. “McCoig had (two) hits tonight with a double, and Chase Effler comes in with two hits again. Koleman (Roach) had two hits, and Drake Byrd was clutch — he was 3-for-5 with that double, which knocked in two and was huge.”
Today’s game will begin at 2 p.m. (Central Time) at the Reese Smith, Jr. Field on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. The Tigers will face Goodpasture Christian (36-3 overall), the defending Class AA champion.
Goodpasture stormed through their side of the bracket, outscoing Crockett County and Spring Hill (twice) by a combined 25-2 score in three games.
Wil Crowe, who pitched a perfect game in Tuesday’s tournament-opening win over Elizabethton, is the probable starter on the mound for the Tigers in the title game.
“We wanted to get to Friday and have our No. 1 ready to go, and that’s the shape we’re in right now,” Guinn said. “He’s coming off 66 pitches Tuesday. I think we’re in a good spot. We’re going to play hard, I’m sure the other team is going to play hard.
“We’ve worked all year to get to this point.”