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Alsup HR ignites FCS to crown
May 28, 2007 12:00 am
MURFREESBORO — Bryant Alsup stepped into the batters' box to begin the Class A state championship game at 9:57 a.m. Friday.
Immediately, the Friendship Christian leadoff hitter suspected Jackson Christian's battery wasn't on the same page and by 9:58, the Commanders had a 1-0 lead.
Alsup sent Greg Wood's first pitch over the right-field wall to ignite the Commanders to their first TSSAA championship, a 13-3 victory at Middle Tennessee State's Reese Smith Field.
"That just started us out completely," Friendship's junior center fielder said just over two hours later as a newly-minted state champion. "It gave us the momentum that we needed. It gave us that extra push to just get us started to this win.
"I saw him shake off – I think they were calling a curve ball the first pitch – he shook it off, he said 'no'. I guess he wanted to throw me a fastball right quick. So he threw me one; it was right down the middle. Perfect pitch fastball."
For the Commanders and Coach John McNeal, the championship trophy came after several near misses in baseball and football. It culminated a tournament in which Friendship was run-ruled by Huntingdon in the first game after its top two pitchers got lost trying to get to the Riverdale High School field. But FCS swung the sticks afterward with four run-rule wins in the subsequent five victories as the Commanders concluded a 31-13 season.
"Our kids came out after losing that first game and, my goodness, we just started ripping the baseball," McNeal said after concluding his 15th season as FCS baseball coach. "We'd been up and down. We probably hit more home runs just in this tournament almost than the whole year. We were ripping, we were hitting some long balls. That one starting off the game set the tone. When Bryant starts off with a hit, it usually is a good thing for us."
"That just set the game right there," winning pitcher Cody Searcey said of the home run. "Usually something bad happens everytime at the first of the game. That just set it right there and from then on we just kept hitting the ball and we just kept making great plays out in the field. They backed me up real good and I'm as happy as I can be."
"After the first Huntingdon game, we jumped on every team we played," said senior Jon Miller after driving in three runs. "We figured out to win a state championship we were going to have to hit the ball. We did hit the ball."
Not satisfied with the 1-0 lead, freshman Lee Maasen hit the first of his two doubles over the right-fielder's head and scored on Miller's single to center. Wade Mitchell just missed a home run, settling for a triple off the wall in left-center field to score Brian Cravens, who had walked, for a 3-0 lead.
"If the home run would have happened and three outs and nothing else, it might not have been as bad [for the Eagles]," McNeal said. "To throw two more up there after that, it really helped."
The two extra runs kept the Commanders ahead as Jackson Christian [33-13] parlayed a two-out walk, three straight singles and a bases-loaded walk into two runs to climb within 3-2.
But Searcey followed the RBI walk to Patrick Taggart with what should have been 10 straight outs. One of them was a leadoff error in the fourth which turned into Jackson Christian's third run. But by then the Commanders had nine on their side of the board and were never again threatened.
Searcey surrendered four hits and three walks while striking out two in four innings, less than a day after throwing five in a run-rule win over Huntingdon.
"My arm was kind of hurting today," Searcey said moments before taking off his green Friendship jersey for the final time. "I had to suck it up a little bit and I knew it. This is the state championship so I had to come out, suck it up and throw as best I could and I threw a great game. I'm proud of my team and I'm excited."
"Adrenaline ought to be a part of it and if they've got it, they're going to do it and he threw great," said McNeal, who brought in Brian Cravens to toss the final two hitless innings. "Really, if you go back to that first night, it was the best thing that could have happened. Because we wouldn't have had those guys today to do that."
McNeal insisted he had not stumbled upon a new way to handle a staff during the tournament.
"If we go back, the guy who's supposed to pitch is going to pitch," said McNeal, noting the Commanders' offensive surge preserved the pitching arms during the tournament.
"We were in the loser's bracket better than we could be, I mean we hadn't used a pitcher," McNeal said of falling into the loser's bracket immediately. "The two games the next day where we got big runs in the first two innings of each game, that was probably the next-biggest thing that happened... We were able to put [Stephen] Pryor away. We put Cravens out after two innings."
"It's a blessing, it's what it was," Miller said of the opening loss.
Friendship answered Jackson Christian's two-spot with a run in the second when Brent Boyd tripled to right and scored on Alsup's sacrifice fly.
Three Eagle errors opened the floodgates in the third as five Commanders poured across the plate. Miller blasted a two-run double off the wall in right-center and scored when Pryor's bunt was thrown away. Searcey singled home the final two runs.
Back-to-back, two-out doubles by Alsup and Maasen produced another run in the fifth. Cravens reached on a fielder's choice as Maasen moved to third on an error. Cravens got into a rundown and arrived at second on a stolen base while Maasen stole home. G.L. Waynick's fly ball was dropped to score Cravens.
Mitchell, after just failing to clear the fence in the first inning, left no doubt in the sixth when he led off with a drive which hit halfway up the stairwell of the football stadium beyond left field.
Sports Editor Andy Reed can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 17 or by e-mail at email@example.com.