Coach Mike Ritz
KINGSPORT — While Dobyns- Bennett was putting on the Ritz, Sullivan South was putting it on Ritz.
However, a reversal of fortunes enabled D-B to make Mike Ritz Night complete for its retiring baseball coach Monday with an 8-7 victory over the Rebels.
With runners at first and second and one out in the seventh inning, Elijah Sutherland and Sean Seabolt executed a daring double steal. The catcher threw the ball into left field to end the game in storybook fashion for the Indians.
Some 1,200 spectators turned out at J. Fred Johnson Stadium for a tribute to the state’s all-time winningest coach.
For a while it didn’t appear to be Ritz’s night. South unleashed a burst of power and opened a 7-2 lead.
D-B stopped the erosion by bringing in ace pitcher Kyle Brandon, rallied to tie the score at 7 and made its winning move in the bottom of the seventh.
Sutherland, a sophomore, started with a walk. Seabolt was safe at second when relief pitcher Ryan Burrow threw late to the bag on a fielder’s choice. The next batter struck out.
Ritz flashed a double-steal sign and both runners broke fast. The ball sailed past the third baseman and Sutherland dashed home for the winning run.
“When I saw the ball get by the third baseman,’’ Sutherland said, “I turned to head for home. When I heard Coach Ritz tell me to go on, I ran as fast as I could.’’
Ritz explained his strategy. “We’ve been successful 90 percent of the time with that play,’’ he said. “We were trying to get a man on third with less than two outs. There are nine ways to score from third with one out. We had Nathan Millsap, a fly ball hitter, coming up. We felt we had a chance to score.’’
South’s Reid Mathews smashed a 410-foot, two-run homer and Bailee Dick belted a 395-foot, two-run homer to highlight a seven-run scoring spree in the third and fourth innings.
Included were doubles by Jamin McCann, Austin Riddle, Ryan Lockhart and Mathews.
“Golly, Mathews hit that ball 400-plus feet,’’ Ritz said. “The Big 8 Conference is a hitter’s league and you’ve got to keep pitches low.’’
Just when the Rebels seemed in control of the game, D-B rallied in the fourth for five runs. Jake Bellamy doubled, Sutherland singled, Seabolt doubled, Millsap was struck by a pitched ball, Glenn Evans doubled and Garrett Clark singled.
Nobody scored again until Sutherland’s climactic dash for home plate in the seventh.
“It’s just baseball,’’ South coach Anthony Richardson said. “You’ve got to go the full seven innings and make plays. We didn’t get the job done. We had opportunities. We could have caught a couple of fly balls.
“We know we can play with them. We got a chance to see Kyle Brandon. We’ll be facing him again Saturday.’’
The Indians (19-11, 8-6) and Rebels (15-15, 5-9) will be matched in one of the first-round games in the District 1-AAA tournament at Daniel Boone.
“It was a special night and I was happy to give Coach Ritz a good game,’’ Brandon said. “South was knocking the ball around a little the whole game. I felt confident in my pitches. I located the fastball well.’’
Ritz seemed overwhelmed that so many people came to the plate for him.
“I’m leaving happy,’’ he said. “We won and that made it a good night for me.
“I really appreciate all the boys who’ve played for me. I’ve been lucky to have good parents, players, assistant coaches and administrations.’’
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