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Another shot at a state championship
May 28, 2007 12:00 am
MURFREESBORO — Nearly six months after their dream football season ended with a championship-game loss to Jackson Christian, Friendship Christian gets another crack at the Eagles for all the marbles – in baseball.
With many of the same players – and the two head coaches and probably some assistants – Friendship and Jackson Christian swung their ways out of their respective loser's brackets to reach this morning's 10 a.m. championship game at Middle Tennessee State's Reese Smith Field.
The Commanders hammered Huntingdon 13-2 and held off the Mustangs 7-5 to win the Riverdale bracket.
Across town, Jackson Christian [33-12] ran up believeable scores of 26-0 and 19-6 over Lookout Valley to secure the Siegel bracket.
"We felt like we're a team of destiny going into this game," said senior Jon Miller, who hit a walk-off three-run homer, his fourth of the tournament, in the fifth inning to run-rule the Mustangs and drove in two more runs in the second game. "It's just weird how things have worked out and our pitching's been all there. Now we get to play for another state title."
Then Miller was told it would be against Jackson Christian, the school which tied a state title-game record with six interceptions of Miller in the Eagles' 19-14 win in early December.
"Extra incentive right there," Miller said. "We really want to stick it to them, we really do.
"As long as we win as a team tomorrow, I'll be as happy as I can be and I'll forget every bit about the interceptions."
"I had the feeling after football that was a possibility that that could happen," said Friendship coach John McNeal, whose Commanders are in the state baseball final for the second time in three seasons with a 30-13 record. "I knew they had a good baseball team. They had to come from behind today and win two, and we did too. We'll meet right next door from where we met not too long ago.
"The coach [Brian Stewart] is the same. The quarterback [Clay Fowler] is the pitcher. In this type [of school], same as us, most guys play at least two sports."
McNeal may have stumbled on a new way to handle a pitching staff during a tournament as Nos. 1 and 3 starters Stephen Pryor and Cody Searcey missed Tuesday's first-round game against Huntingdon after getting lost on their way to Riverdale and No. 2 Brian Cravens wasn't rested following last Friday's sectional win. That meant the top four hurlers were rested for Wednesday's winner's bracket games, which the Commanders run ruled, enabling McNeal to pull his starters early to save innings.
"Those two wins might have been the most important, how we won," McNeal said. "I don't ever want to embarrass anybody. But the leads early gave us a chance to pull our pitchers and give these two guys [Pryor and Cravens] come out here on the second game tonight to get us a win. A lot of things have happened over the last couple of days. Losing the first game was the best thing that happened because it saved all our pitching."
Searcey pitched the full five innings of the first game, allowing three hits. Pryor pitched the first five of the nightcap and left after giving up three runs in the bottom of the fifth when Huntingdon scored three times to draw within 6-4. Cravens finished up, allowing a two-out solo home run to Spencer Clift in the seventh.
So who will toe the rubber at 10 a.m. today?
"I don't know," a drenched McNeal said after getting a Gatorade shower. "Everybody's available. We'll talk about it in a little bit. A lot of that will depend on who we think starts better than who comes in and we have some of those.
"We'll have to throw them all because we know none of the three have seven innings in them."
Friendship spotted Huntingdon a 1-0 lead in the top of the third inning of the first game before the Commanders took command with five in the bottom half. Freshman Lee Maasen led off with a tying home run before senior catcher Wade Mitchell muscled a three-run go-ahead shot to left. Brent Boyd blasted a solo shot to center for a 5-1 lead.
G.L. Waynick whacked a two-run single to right field in the fourth. Mitchell drew a bases-loaded walk and Boyd sent a sacrifice fly to center for a 9-1 lead. Bryant Alsup scored on a fifth-inning wild pitch before Miller homered.
Cravens' sacrifice fly lifted Pryor to a 1-0 first-inning lead in the nightcap.
Alsup hit an RBI triple and Maasen, Cravens and Waynick run-scoring doubles in the second. Miller's RBI single staked Friendship to a 6-0 lead.
Miller singled home Friendship's insurance score in the sixth.
Cole McAdams' two-run single got the Mustangs [36-6] back in the game in the fifth.
Sports Editor Andy Reed can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 17 or by e-mail at email@example.com.