BRISTOL, Tenn. — Baseball can be a game of inches. It took every inch of Chase Cunningham’s 6-foot-3 frame to preserve Tennessee High’s undefeated record.
Cunningham snared a scorching line drive off the bat of Nick Loughry to complete a 6-5 Vikings victory over Dobyns-Bennett at Tod Houston Field on Tuesday.
The Vikings (5-0, 3-0) and Indians (3-1, 2-1) were the last undefeated teams in the Big 8 Conference.
“I think we can make a little noise,” D-B coach Mike Ritz said. “I think we can play with anybody. I know they can, too. It’s just a matter of having enough grit to come out every day and do it.”
“I don’t think there’s a team out here who’s just unbeatable. I think that’s pretty much been proven,” THS coach Gill Payne said. “We talk about getting to the top of the mountain. Well, we’re on the top of a small hill right now. Once you get there, you’re on everybody’s hit list.”
Tennessee High cranked out the hits like Sun Records during a big fourth inning. The Vikings pushed across five runs on four hits and an error to break a 1-all tie.
The Tribe never threw in the towel. A two-RBI single by Conner Gunn in the fifth kept D-B in the game. One frame later, Nathan Millsap’s solo homer to center-right reduced the margin to two runs.
In spite of the late rally, Cunningham — the Vikes’ starting pitcher — took the mound in the top of the seventh looking to finish what he started. Instead he made a quick exit after Sean Seabolt led off with a bunt single and reached second when the throw sailed out of play.
Payne went into the frame intending to pull Cunningham if or when the Tribe put a man on base. In a flurry of shifts, Cunningham went to play first while Stephen Mullins came in from third to relieve.
“I was a little disappointed, but I knew the team needed me,” Cunningham said.
They sure would.
Seabolt later scored on Chris Cook’s single. Elijah Sutherland followed with a hit to put the go- ahead run aboard, and a wild pitch advanced both into scoring position.
They were still on second and third when Loughry came to bat with two outs.
“That kid, I’d faced him three times and he’d pulled every ball,” Cunningham said. “So I knew there’d be one coming at me. I just wanted to be ready.”
Cunningham was, and the Vikes claimed sole possession of first in their conference.
“People have asked me, how good is Tennessee High? I really don’t know,” Payne said. “We’re young, got four seniors, we’re relying on a lot of sophomores and juniors and five guys who haven’t even played varsity baseball. But they’ve been coming through for us.”
Cunningham (2-0) allowed six hits and five runs — four earned — with two walks and five strikeouts. Mullins tallied his first save.
Kyle Brandon (1-1) took the loss for the Indians. He went five innings.
Cunningham, Dylan Crockett and Casey Sheffield each drove in two runs for THS. Catcher Austin Snyder had three hits and scored twice.
Seabolt had two hits and two runs scored for D-B. Millsap crossed the plate twice and Cook also had two hits.