Sliding through the competition
The Pigeon Forge Tigers are one win away from playing for a state championship.
The Orange and Black (37-2) continued their assault on the Class AA tournament at the TSSAA BlueCross Spring Fling Wednesday afternoon with a 9-2 thumping of Murfreesboro Central (25-16).
Pigeon Forge starting pitcher Colt Buchanan, a senior lefty that’s signed with Milligan College, had a sterling effort on the bump for the Tigers, giving up just three hits and no runs over five innings.
“It was a huge game for Colt, and Colt did exactly what we needed him to do,” PF coach MIke Guinn said. “He’s been our No. 2 (pitcher in the rotation) all year long, and he was slated to go in this game a long time ago, and he came out and did exactly what we needed him to do.
“He pitched great, he had command of the strike zone, he had command of three pitches and got better as the game went on. His velocity improved, his movement improved and his location improved,” Guinn said. “And as he moved along we thought we might have the opportunity — if we got our bats going — to get him out of there and hold him a little bit. Obviously we’re going to need him a little bit on down the line.”
Buchanan left the game with a comfortable 8-0 lead, and though his bullpen battled some control issues and allowed two late runs, earned the win on the mound.
“It felt great (to get the win),” Buchanan said after the game. “Having the experience (pitching at state) last year really helped this year. It took a lot off my shoulders. I just wanted to come out this game and come out big.”
And, when your team hits the way the Tigers do, it can make things even better for a pitcher.
“It helps settle you in when your team starts adding runs on for you,” Buchanan said. “It just takes that pressure of holding (the opposition) down.”
The Tigers continued the torrid offensive pace they’ve had the last few weeks, as another monster inning blew a game wide open.
Pigeon Forge led 1-0 in the fifth inning when they exploded for six runs when they strung together five hits and a pair of walks against Murfreesboro Central starter Alex Ropp and reliever Alex Sherrod.
Max McCoig got things started with a leadoff single, which was followed by another single from teammate Chase Effler.
Jake Griffin’s single to right-center field followed, scoring McCoig.
After a Scott LaFollette sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk to Wil Crowe, catcher Ben Breazeale was patient at the plate and drew another base on balls to up the Tigers’ lead to 3-0.
Moments later senior Drake Byrd smoked a bases-clearning double down the left field line, and the Tigers led 6-0.
“He hit the ball hard all three times,” Guinn said of Byrd, who was 1-for-3. “And it paid off on that last one with a three-run double. That was huge for us.”
Before making the final out of the frame, junior Koleman Roach drilled an RBI double — his second of the game — off the wall to put the Tigers ahead 7-0.
“Koleman was huge,” Guinn said. “(He was) 2-for-4 with two big RBIs, and hit two balls off the wall. It was a super job by him.”
An RBI double for Crowe an inning later increased the Pigeon Forge lead, and coach Guinn then decided to go to the bullpen to save Buchanan’s arm for later use in the tournament. He’d thrown just 70 pitches when was pulled.
PF relievers Roach and Byrd had some struggles in the final two innings, giving up a pair of runs to Central, but a final run on a Roach fielder’s choice in the seventh kept the Tigers’ lead comfortable.
“I wasn’t real pleased that we weren’t finishing like we needed to, but I wasn’t worried,” Guinn said of the relivers’ late issues. “I haven’t thrown those guys a lot, so it’s kind of asking a lot of them to (pitch in the state tournament). But I felt like they could get it done.”
Guinn also gave kudos to several other PF hitters.
“Chase Effler, again, just keeps hitting. He was 2-for-3 again, swinging the bat well, and Max McCoig’s swinging the bat well. We’ve got a lot of guys just swinging it good right now.”
Pigeon Forge will play Dyersburg today at 2 p.m. for a spot in the AA championship game. Since Dyersburg is coming from the loser’s bracket, they would have to beat the Tigers twice to move past PF to the title game.
Defending state champion Goodpasture, who’s been cleaning things up on the other side of the bracket, seems to be the likely opponent should the Tigers survive today. It was the Cougars that sent the Tigers home from last year’s tournament in the semifinals. Goodpasture won the teams’ opening game 6-2 and then beat the Tigers again in the semis 3-0.