CENTRE – Cherokee County High School baseball coach Will Smith made a promise to sophomore left fielder Connor Wilson that if he hits an opposite field home run this season, he gets a steak.
Smith may have to amend that promise after what Wilson did on Friday night in the second game of the Class 4A state playoffs against Good Hope.
Wilson launched a grand slam to left that bounced onto Northwood Drive, putting the exclamation point on the Warriors’ 12-0 win in five innings.
Cherokee County (17-13) also won the first game 7-5 to advance to next Friday’s second round, where it will face North Jackson at Bobby Beckett Field in Centre.
“It was a good shot and all, but I’m just glad I get to play this game with the guys I love. We’re going on to the second round,” Wilson said. “This is my second time making it in this spot. The first time didn’t go that well. We played Brooks and they were a solid bunch. They ended up winning state that year. I’m just glad we could get here again and maybe this time have a different result.”
Smith said Wilson “was all over” Good Hope relief pitcher Lane Speegle’s offering.
“He just hammered it,” Smith said. “We haven’t had many baseballs hit that far. You have to go back to the Jy Lockridge days. He was swinging it well tonight. I’m proud of him.”
While Wilson was swinging his stick well, Warrior game two starting pitcher Daegan Scott was dealing from the mound. He tossed a two-hitter on 63 pitches with no walks and five strikeouts.
“It just feels amazing,” Scott said of all the run support the Warriors provided him. “You can just relax, have fun, let loose and do what you want to do. It makes things so much easier.
“When I pitch I know the guys are going to put the sticks out and put some runs up, and I can just go out and do my job.”
The Warriors took control of the second game early. They sent 11 batters to the plate and scored five runs off Good Hope starter Braxton Marshall. The Warriors tacked on two more runs on reliever Kody Estill, then tagged Speegle for five in the fourth for the final.
Tristan Whitefield and Walker Pruitt both delivered three hits for the Warriors. Haden Wheeler had two hits. Wilson, Malachi Horton and Cooper Rodgers each added a hit. Isaiah Wood and Cody Adderhold both walked twice.
Preston Seymore and Colten Whatley had the lone hits for Good Hope (11-17), both with singles in the second and fifth innings respectively.
While the second game was a blowout, the first game was anything but.
Good Hope took a 2-0 advantage in the top of the second to put a little pressure on the Warriors. They battled back with a run in the bottom half of the second, then scored four in the third to take a 5-2 edge.
The Raiders cut the Warrior lead to a run with a pair of runs in the fourth and tied the game at 5 with a run in the fifth, but the Warriors battled back with single runs in the bottom of the fifth and the sixth for the final.
“The way we played defensively (in the first game) was a little bit of a wakeup call for the second game,” Smith said. “The first game we had a few defensive miscues. If we field two bunts, there’s a good shot we win that game 7-0. That’s how it is and that’s how we’ve been all year. We’re prone to do things like that, but the guys are resilient. They ran the bases well. They threw well when it mattered.
“Tristan Whitefield came in and threw strikes and shut them down in a pressure situation (in the sixth with the bases loaded and one out). I can’t say enough about Tristan. He’s really come along on the mound in the last month or so.”
As Smith said, Whitefield earned a save in relief of Wilson, who tossed 5 1/3 innings. He gave up a pair of earned runs on seven hits with a walk and four strikeouts.
Whitefield finished things off, giving up no hits or runs with three walks and three strikeouts.
Wilson led the Warriors with a pair of hits at the plate. He also drove in a run in the third. Whitefield managed a hit, a walk and scored a run. Wheeler, Adderhold, Horton, Rodgers and Brian Green each contributed a hit. Horton and Green drove in a pair of runs apiece.
Matthew Bagwell had three hits for the Raiders. Caleb Rusk added a pair of hits, including a double. He also drove in two runs. Seymore had a hit, walked twice and scored twice. Marshall finished with a hit and scored a run.
Rusk suffered the loss after working six innings. He gave up six earned runs on eight hits with two walks and two strikeouts.