CENTRE – Spring Garden senior second baseman Ryley Kirk knew his team needed a spark late in the Cherokee County Baseball Tournament championship game.
It was the bottom of the fifth inning. There were already two on with two outs and the Cherokee County Warriors held a one-run lead.
Kirk smacked a base hit to left center to give the Panthers their first lead of the game. Even though Spring Garden didn’t do any more damage in the inning, Kirk’s hit seemed to get the Panther bats going.
An inning later, they batted around and pushed five more runs across the plate, including a solo home run to left center by catcher Luke Welsh, then held on for an 8-5 victory.
“I just felt like I needed to pick my teammates up,” Kirk said. “We started the game real slow. We weren’t hitting the ball well. We made a few baserunning errors that we should have scored on. I felt like I had to do whatever I had to do. I was looking for a good pitch, and I stayed real patient at the plate. I just tried to make a play and pick up my teammates. It turned out good for us.”
Spring Garden coach Tony Benefield said Kirk’s hit was the wake-up call the Panthers needed.
“That was big,” Benefield said. “When we finally started getting going, we started running the bases better and started thinking better. We overcame it. We didn’t play our best. Weston (Kirk), admittedly, wasn’t the best he’s been on the mound, even though he pitched very good, but even with all that, we still pulled it off.”
Minus the COVID-cancelled 2020 baseball season, its the second straight Cherokee County Baseball Tournament title for the Panthers.
“It’s the county tournament,” said Welsh, who led the Panthers at the plate by going 3-for-3 with a double to go along with hit homer. “Whether it’s basketball, volleyball, baseball or softball, you kind of get something inside you (when it comes to the county tournament). Just about everybody in the county, you like them or don’t like them. You’re friends, you’re foes. Everybody’s here watching and you kind of show out a little bit. This is your chance.
“I think that’s one thing that makes it special, just being here with the rest of the county. It’s just a big deal being able to have a big atmosphere within the county.”
The Warriors came into Saturday’s championship with some momentum after rallying for an 8-6 win over Sand Rock in the previous game. They scored a pair of unearned runs in the top of the second off Weston Kirk to take a 2-0 edge.
The Panthers got a run back in the bottom half of the inning off Warrior pitcher Daegan Scott to make the score 2-1. It stayed that way until Ryley Kirk’s hit in the fifth.
“Cherokee County came to play. We could tell that when they played their first game against Sand Rock. They’ve vastly improved over the year,” said Benefield, whose team defeated the Warriors 11-0 on March 6. “Coach (Will) Smith is doing an excellent job with them. We knew it was going to be a war. Finally we woke up, went ahead and stayed ahead.”
The Panthers’ five-run sixth was aided by four Warrior errors.
“We’re a young bunch and we’re prone to make errors,” Smith said. “I tell the guys when the errors happen, we don’t need to be stacking them on top of each other like you saw right there.
“We pitched well enough to win. We hit well enough to win. We ran the bases well enough to win. We just had that one inning, but I’m proud of our guys after what they’ve been through. They haven’t won many baseball games in their entire career. I think coming into the year, most of those kids, since their seventh grade year, they’ve won a total of three baseball games, but here we are with a winning record three quarters of the way through playing in the county championship.
“They’re doing some really good things. They’re having to learn how to win, and I could not be prouder of them. I’ve had some really good teams since I’ve been here, but this group is the most fun to coach that I’ve ever had.”
Trailing 8-2 in their final at-bat, the Warriors attempted to give the Panthers a finish.
Malachi Horton delivered a two-run single to left and later scored on a passed ball to make the score 8-5, but the rally ended when a diving Kenneth Petty caught a line drive at third off the bat of Warrior leadoff hitter Haden Wheeler to secure the Panther victory.
Connor Wilson led the Warriors at the plate by going 2-for-3 with a double. Walker Pruett and Horton had the only other Warrior hits. Isaiah Wood was hit by pitches twice.
Chapel Pope added a pair of hits for the Panthers. Ryley Kirk, Andrew Bates, and Cam Welsh each had a hit. Cam Welsh also walked and drove in a run.
Weston Kirk picked up the win after going the distance. He surrendered no earned runs on four hits with a walk and seven strikeouts.
Scott suffered the loss for the Warriors after six innings of eight-hit ball. He gave up four earned runs with two walks and five strikeouts.
Cherokee County 8, Sand Rock 6
CENTRE – The Warriors rallied from an early six-run deficit to take an 8-6 win over Sand Rock in the Cherokee County Baseball Tournament semifinals on Saturday.
Cherokee County scored three runs in the top of the fourth and five more in the fifth to take the lead.
Warrior starting pitcher Brian Green held the Wildcats scoreless the final five innings to earn the win. None of the runs he gave up were earned. He scattered seven hits and a walk with three strikeouts.
Cody Adderhold went 3-for-4 at the plate with a homer and four RBIs for the Warriors. Haden Wheeler added a pair of hits, including a double. He also scored a run. Tristan Whitefield was 2-for-4 with a run and a RBI. Walker Pruett and Isaiah Wood both had two hits, two runs and a RBI.
Olin Pruitt suffered the loss for the Wildcats. He went the distance, giving up seven earned runs on 14 hits with no walks and six strikeouts. Pruitt also led Sand Rock at the plate by going 2-for-4 with a triple, a run and two RBIs.
Bradley Jackson collected a hit, a walk and scored a run for the Wildcats. Slade St. Clair contributed a hit, a run and a RBI. Brian Giles added a hit and scored a run. Logan Wood finished with a hit.