Dobyns-Bennett starting pitcher Logan Gentry delivers against Knoxville Catholic during Friday's Class AAA sectional game at J. Fred Johnson Stadium in Kingsport. (Ned Jilton II photo)
KINGSPORT — When you’ve waited 17 years to get back into the state tournament bracket, waiting a few more hours doesn’t seem that long.
After Dobyns-Bennett’s baseball team weathered a three-hour storm delay, the Indians went on to make history with a 3-1 win over Knoxville Catholic in a Class AAA sectional game at J. Fred Johnson Stadium.
The Tribe (32-6) advanced to next week’s TSSAA tournament in Murfreesboro. The Indians haven’t been to state since 1996.
“We kind of put together a little plan, then we put them out there and they have to get it done. And they did,” said third-year D-B coach Ryan Wagner, who led the program to its 18th state tournament appearance since 1950.
First pitch was at 6 p.m. and a full inning was gotten in before a heavy electrical storm chased both teams off the field and most of the spectators into the hallways under the baseball and football grandstands.
When Indians left fielder Sammy Stewart made a diving catch for the last out, it was well past 11 p.m. Elated fans were still packed under the big roof to cheer the jubilant players dog-piling in front of the mound.
“This was huge, huge. The biggest win of my career, right here. It was great,” said D-B pitcher Logan Gentry (9-0), who scattered five hits over seven innings. “The fans stuck around for us after that three-hour wait. It was awesome.”
The Fighting Irish (28-12) had a solid reputation as a hitting team, but the only real harm they did against Gentry came with two outs in the third inning. John Mark Broussard singled and stole second, scoring on catcher Kole Cottam’s single into left to tie the game up at 1.
Gentry credited the D-B training room for keeping his arm warm during the long delay. Wagner said he was thankful his pitcher got in only one inning before the delay. Had he gone four, it would have been tougher to put him back out there.
Catholic starting left-hander Ethan Elliott retired the Indians in order in the first inning. By the time he returned, he seemed to have lost his edge.
In the second, Elliott gave up three hits and plunked a batter, falling behind by a run after D-B catcher Sammy Salyers stroked a bases-loaded single.
The southpaw was relieved one out later by right-hander Hunter Hayes (7-2). Hayes, who pitched Monday against Farragut, got the bleak decision shifted onto his balance sheet after Chris Cook’s two-RBI double in the fourth inning that plated Caleb Cook and Salyers for the go-ahead.
“Of course when you go back in after a long rest, it’s going to be different. But I think our guys did a good job of refocusing. We knew the task at hand and we got it done,” said Chris Cook, whose timely two-bagger was one of only four hits allowed by the Irish.
Catholic shortstop Adam Reed took over for Hayes in the fifth. Reed gave up a walk and a plunk early, but his sidearm delivery kept the Indians off stride and a foot in the door for the Irish. He struck out the side in the sixth.
But the ever-durable Gentry only got stronger as the night wore on. In addition, the Tribe erased two Catholic lead runners over the final three innings.
Gentry’s balk-avoiding throw to second baseman Caleb Cook caught Irish leadoff man Blane Harrison between bases in the fifth. Salyers’ third-strike throw from behind the plate to Cook gunned down a stealing Broussard to shorten the sixth inning.
“It was a valiant team effort by our guys and I couldn’t be happier,” Wagner said mere moments before getting deluged with icy Gatorade.
“We didn’t have lower expectations than we did last year. But losing 11 seniors, sometimes you don’t know. These guys came through for us.”