Commanders return to Class A state final vs. Silverdale
By Andy Reed
MURFREESBORO — Contrary to his name, Michael Hawks doesn't have wings. But his left arm and bat were enough to help carry Friendship Christian back to the Class A state baseball final.
The junior launched a grand-slam home run and pitched the Commanders to a 12-1 conquest of Grace Christian in the Riverdale bracket final Thursday at Jones Field.
Hawks' third slam of the season into the jet stream blowing out toward right field capped a five-run second inning as the Commanders, who needed four runs in the bottom of the seventh to beat the Rams on Wednesday, ended the suspense early.
"He's had some big one for us and that was as big as it comes," Commander coach John McNeal said.
Friendship will bring a 32-6 record into today's 11 a.m. one-game final at Middle Tennessee State's Reese Smith Field against Silverdale [29-3], which ousted three-time state champion Decatur County Riverside 6-2 in the Middle Tennessee Christian bracket after losing to the Panthers 18-1 earlier in the day. It is the Commanders second state final in three years and fourth since 2005.
"This is the first time straight through," McNeal said, noting Friendship went 3-0 in bracket play for the first time. "We've done it every way you can do it, lose the first one and come back and win [en route to the 2007 championship], we won and lost the first game in this [bracket final round] in '05 and won the second and we got there by winning this game twice.
"The circle has been made."
McNeal plans to send ace left-hander Brennan Swindoll to the mound today and will have a full pitching staff available other than Hawks. He said that includes Stefan Remus, who pitched seven innings against Grace on Wednesday but could go an inning today, if needed. Also available will be right-hander Austin Godwin and left-hander Caleb Snider, who came on for Hawks in the bottom of the fifth and recorded the final two outs. Either of those could have started yesterday.
"All three have thrown well," McNeal said. "We'd seen [the Rams] against a lefty, similar to Mike, against Cornersville [a 2-1 Grace win late Wednesday]. [He] had seemed to give them a little more trouble, and Godwin is similar to Remus, so we didn't want to go back-to-back days with that.
"[Remus] said he had an inning [for Friday]. But the thing is, we got enough guys, we don't have to. We're going to start with Brennan and see what happens."
Hawks gave up five hits and five walks in 4 1/3 innings while striking out one. But he kept the Rams off the board until the bottom of the third when William Stallworth dropped a bases-loaded single into short left-field to score Matt Cuninngham. But Bradley Andrews looped a liner to shortstop Cale Mitchell, who threw to second baseman Joseph McNamee to double off Josh Liford and end the threat.
"I had a lot of movement on the ball that helped out a lot," Hawks said. "Caleb Snider has a lot of movement, too."
Friendship finished with six hits while drawing seven walks and getting hit by a pitch.
After loading the bases with two out in the first inning and coming up empty, Friendship filled them again on one-out walks in the second. Snider reached on an error to score Swindoll before Hawks hammered his shot to right.
"We wanted to get some hits in, put some runs on the ball," Hawks said. "We had some guys on and coach wanted a big hit. It just happened I had it.
"The wind was blowing out towards right the whole time. Every fly ball that was hit, everything carried out to right field. Right field, if it got up in the air, it was going deep."
The wind was a factor in a five-run fourth as Hunter Watts' two-run triple carried well up the right-field alley. He scored on an error moments later to cap an inning which didn't get going until two were out. Tanner Martin singled, Gunner Osborne walked and Swindoll was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Mitchell lined a single to left field for two runs, bring up Watts.
Godwin singled in the fifth and with the lead already 10 runs, McNeal began substituting. Pinch-runner Milam Copeland scored on pinch-hitter Jameson Sorrels' comebacker to Micah Wheeler, Grace's third pitcher of the afternoon.
Martin reached on an error in the third and scored on another miscue as Grace, which concluded a 16-13 season, finished with five errors.
Today's game, as well as all of the state BlueCross Spring Fling finals except tennis, will be available live on tennessee.playonsports.com. The baseball championship games will also be rebroadcast on public TV stations across the state later.
In the state tennis tournament at Old Fort Park, Mt. Juliet Christian senior Rachel Walker lost to Harding Academy freshman Tori Hooker 6-1, 6-1 in the Division II Class A quarterfinal Thursday morning. Hooker won her semifinal match yesterday afternoon and will play for the championship this morning.