With the Rebels needing him to get outs against Sullivan Central and stave off elimination in the District 1-AA baseball tournament Sunday at TVA Credit Union Ballpark, Harjo headed to the mound with South coach Anthony Richardson’s last-second message — “Just throw strikes” — ringing in his head.
The talented sophomore did just that, stopping the bleeding from six straight walks and recording seven straight outs to earn the save, and the Rebels held on to beat the Cougars 8-6. The Rebels (12-13) advanced to play Sullivan East on Monday night in the losers’ bracket semifinal.
“I was watching the walks and knew I had to come and get some outs and get the win for us,” Harjo said. “I just came in there to throw strikes, knowing my teammates had my back. If they hit it, I know my teammates are going to take care of me. It was a good team win.”
Richardson had brought in Harjo against Johnson County in a late regular-season game to gain some experience. After Harjo — who had mainly been a junior varsity pitcher — threw well against some varsity guys, Richardson made the decision to insert him into Sunday’s pressure-packed situation.
“I told him just throw strikes. We had walked six in the fifth inning and made it interesting,” Richardson said. “When we’ve been in trouble is when we walked people or booted it. We talk about throwing strikes all the time. Maybe he is young enough where he just didn’t know any better and he just went out there and threw strikes.”
Chase Bowery, who threw the first 4 1/3 innings, got the win before Tristan Griffith came on in relief.
The Cougars (6-4), who had beaten South 6-4 just two days earlier, jumped out to a 2-1 lead in the third inning. Blake Lucas scored on a sacrifice fly by Parker Mumpower and Noah Vaughan lined an RBI single that brought home Matt Long.
South, which scored the game’s first run on Austin Monds’ bases-loaded walk that plated Gavin Parker, posted six runs in the bottom of the fourth. Among those, Monds had an RBI double, Drew Creech ripped a two-run single and Bowery had an RBI single.
Central closed to within a run in the top of the fifth. Gabe Akard was hit by a pitch with bases loaded, and Isaac Hood, Lucas and Long drew bases-loaded walks before Harjo shut them down.
Monds was 2-for-3 with two RBIs and two runs scored. Creech, who drove in the final run, and Cory Williams each had two hits. Andrew Noah laid down a pair of bunt singles and Parker walked three times.
Another young pitcher, Central sophomore Zac Winstead, gave up just one run over the first three innings before struggling in the fourth. Greg Akard went the rest of the way.
Long, Vaughan and Hood accounted for the Cougars’ three hits.
“Beating them Friday night, we knew the rematch would be exciting and it would be a challenge to beat them again,” Central coach Clay Colley said. “I wasn’t proud of the way we played, but I was proud of the way we battled. We had a chance to come back and win it, and I was proud of the effort late in the game. We were able to be more selective and patient finding a pitch we could hit, and it paid off in that fifth inning.”