CHURCH HILL - New coach Travis Free has been anxiously awaiting the kind of baseball win Volunteer got Friday night.
And it could not have come at a more appropriate time - with Hawkins County rival Cherokee in town.
Volunteer (5-7) snapped a tie with a three-run sixth inning to defeat the Chiefs 7-4 in non-conference action.
"We finally got a close one to go our way," Free said. "When we made a mistake in other games, the wheels came off. That didn't happen tonight.
"It seems to be a pattern that we start a little slow and get better as the game goes along. We hit the ball all the way through the lineup better than we had been. Derek Shaffer was the big sparkplug."
Shaffer ignited two scoring spurts. He doubled to start a three-run fifth and drew a one-out walk to ignite Volunteer's three-run sixth.
The score was 4-4 when Shaffer worked losing pitcher Ezra Helton for the key walk. Aaron Bennett sacrificed him to second. Tyler Hutson got a run-scoring single and Dylan Christian followed with a hit. After Cody Byington walked, Matt Fleenor hit a grounder that was thrown away, resulting in two more runs.
"When I got the walk, I knew I had to get on base some way because it meant I would be the go-ahead run," Shaffer said. "A walk is the same thing as a base hit in a game like this."
With the wheel of fortune stopping on Volunteer's number, it inspired Shaffer and his teammates.
"We've got to play a full seven innings in every game," Shaffer said. "As long as we keep battling, good things are going to happen. Statistics don't always show what occurs in games."
Fleenor, the Falcons' only veteran player, took the battle to Cherokee. He stroked a double to open the second inning and scored on an error for a 1-0 lead after Shaun Arnold's infield hit.
Cherokee (5-5) caught up in the fourth when Ethan Blair doubled, stole third and raced home on Coleman Elliott's sacrifice fly.
The Chiefs broke on top 2-1 in the fifth as Brent Carmack doubled and dashed to the plate on Justin Ferrell's single.
Volunteer regained the lead 4-2 in the home half of that inning. Shaffer's double set the tone. Hutson reached on a fielder's choice, starting pitcher Ethan Pearcy singled, Byington lofted a sacrifice fly and Fleenor and Arnold got back-to-back singles.
Cherokee tied the score 4-4 in the sixth. Elliott singled and Michael Godsey and Carmack each doubled.
That set the stage for Volunteer's final rally, which gave Christian his second pitching win.
Arnold, the Volunteer closer, retired the Cherokee side without incident in the seventh.
"It's always close when we play Cherokee," Fleenor said. "They play against us like it's a state championship game. No matter what the team records are, you can look for a competitive score."
"We hit the ball well," Cherokee coach Kevin Helton said. "Miscues on our part and a few seeing-eye ground balls by Volunteer were the difference. The ball just didn't bounce for us."
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