GREENEVILLE — After pulling his ace in the bottom of a disastrous third inning, winning was the furthest thing from the mind of Sullivan South baseball coach Anthony Richardson.
As his team — down 8-0 to a talented Greeneville squad — trotted off the field at the end of the third, Richardson didn't have any words of wisdom for his players. He was simply hoping the Rebels could find a way to lose gracefully without pulling a stunt that would make the conclusion of their Region 1-AA tournament game look like the final five minutes of "Slap Shot."
"I didn't even talk to them," Richardson said. "I was just trying to hope we didn't do something stupid to embarrass ourselves."
But instead of embarrassment, the Rebels found redemption.
South plated two runs in the top of the fourth, exploded for six more in the fifth to tie the game at 8 and tacked on two more in the sixth before holding on for dear life in the bottom of the seventh to claim an improbable 10-9 victory over the Greene Devils at Pioneer Park.
Senior Russell Koesters, after his worst start of the season, was the pitcher who took the long walk from the mound to third base down 8-0. But instead of lying down, he cranked a lead-off triple in the fifth inning to ignite the rally that tied the game.
"I didn't do my part on the mound tonight. I had to do it with my bat," Koesters said. "That was my whole plan. You can never give up. That's our whole mentality with this team.
"We've got the biggest heart in the state, and that's why we've got a shot."
Richardson replaced Koesters with righty Nathan Dye, who throws sidearm. The different release point coupled with the movement of Dye's pitches stopped the Devils dead in their tracks. Dye retired 10 Greeneville batters in a row at one point and picked up the victory by allowing just one earned run on four hits in 4 2-3 innings of work.
"The only pitch I have is a fastball. That's all I threw. The bottom just drops out," Dye said. "I like to work for my team, and they work for me, too. It goes both ways."
Indeed, while Dye was working to keep the Greene Devils (23-8) off balance at the plate, his teammates were working diligently to get back into the game.
Trey Fields got South (22-10) on the board with an RBI double in the fourth and Charlie McCann brought Fields home with a sacrifice fly. After Fields got hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to plate a run in the fifth, McCann and Chase Fields came up with back-to-back, two-run singles to tie the game at 8.
The Rebels missed a pair of scoring opportunities early but they made up for it in the sixth by creating their own breaks and edging ahead for good.
When Trey Fields came back up with the bases loaded, he was hit by a pitch for the second straight at-bat, giving the Rebels a 9-8 lead. Moments later, Blake Christian took advantage of a passed ball by streaking home to score an insurance run that proved invaluable after Greeneville scored one in the bottom of the seventh.
South plays the winner of the delayed Region 1-AA game between Unicoi County and Grainger County on Wednesday in the regional title game. Regardless of the outcome, the Rebels are assured of a trip to sectionals.
After remarking that Koesters threw "terrible" on Monday, Richardson chuckled as he realized that Monday's 60-pitch outing will likely make his ace available to pitch in Friday's sectional game with a berth in the state tournament on the line.
"I've always got pitches in me," Koesters said.comments powered by Disqus