STORY BY CHIP CIRILLO | PHOTOS BY CARL EDMONDSON, JR.
For eight innings, nothing went up on the scoreboard except zeroes.
Finally, Summit rallied for three runs in the ninth to win the Region 6-AAA Border Battle championship with a 3-0 victory in front of a full house at Independence on Wednesday night.
“It’s kind of like a broken record, but that’s how we’ve won games all year,” Spartans coach Chad Kirby said. “Our pitching’s come through for us and most days our hitters will eventually figure out a way to score a run that we need. And it happened again tonight.”
Summit (23-11) will host Hendersonville (19-16) in a sectional on Friday night.
The Spartans are one win away from their first state-tournament appearance since 2016.
Independence (24-11) visits Station Camp (29-11) in its sectional.
The Eagles will be seeking their first their first state-tournament berth since 2011.
Vanderbilt commit Robert Hassell, a Mr. Baseball finalist and the District 11-AAA MVP, will start on the mound Friday.
Starter Garrett Sims, Bricen Russell and Cole Hendrix combined to shut out the Eagles on five hits and six walks.
“We’re just trying to save pitching right now for later games,” said Sims, a left-handed sophomore. “We’re just trying to stack it up. That way we can use them for later.”
Vanderbilt signee Chris McElvain (6-1), the District 11-AAA Pitcher of the Year, appears to be the likely starter Friday.
“We’ll see,” Kirby said. “We’ll talk about it tomorrow and see how everybody is feeling. We should have a loaded deck to go. We haven’t really burned anybody.”
Sims, Russell and Hendrix combined to strike out nine Independence batters.
“The key to us: they were in the strike zone and that’s the key at all levels,” Kirby said. “If you stay in the strike zone, usually good things are going to happen and we did tonight. We made enough plays and got out of a couple of jams.”
Summit batted around in the ninth, scoring on an infield single, a hit batter and a walk. Alex Runk, Steven Smith and Tre Hunter each had an RBI.
Independence starter Chayton Gray was razor sharp, throwing eight scoreless innings.
The 6-2 lefty allowed two hits and one walk and struck out 11 on 94 pitches. He kept the Spartans off-balance with his fastball and curveball.
“It’s really tough because I feel like everyone was doing good defensively and I was feeling really good tonight, but the balls just weren’t falling our way offensively, and that happens,” said Gray, a Rhodes signee. “That’s baseball. (Summit) just had a lot of fight in them and wouldn’t give up. Kept grinding out at-bats and that’s how they got out ahead.”
Indy reliever Montana Dickerson took the loss after allowing three runs, two hits and two walks in the ninth.
Slater Schield opened the ninth with a single for the Eagles, but Hendrix retired the next three batters to earn the win with Hassell waiting in the on-deck circle.
“We didn’t do the little things early offensively to put a run across and that’s baseball,” said Eagles coach Mike McLaury, whose team stranded nine runners. “We got caught looking at too many third strikes with runners in scoring position, not bunting in the right direction. Just a lot of little things that we could have maybe put a run or two across.”
Summit, which beat Indy twice during the regular season, avenged a district-tournament loss to the Eagles.
Independence shut out its previous two opponents and held Summit scoreless for the first eight innings.
The loss ended the Eagles’ seven-game winning streak.
“Like I told the kids, there are only 16 teams left so everybody we play is going to be good,” Kirby said. “We’ve just got to show up and be one run better than they are on Friday.”