A two-out, two-strike single by senior Matthew Simmons in the bottom of the eighth inning Friday evening plated classmate Jared Broome with the game’s only run to send the Mustangs to the TSSAA State Baseball Championship Tournament for the first time.
“We’ve asked them to believe the whole game, no matter what the situation,” proclaimed a proud Shamblin after the 1-0 victory over sixth-ranked Tullahoma at Mike Turner Field. “We knew we were going against a great team, with a great couple of pitchers, but we did what we had to do to win.”
The Wildcats are lead by Sheffield brothers Jordan and Justus, who both throw in the mid 90 mph range. The former is a 6-foot-2 right handed junior who has already committed to Vanderbilt, while the latter is a sophomore lefty who is already being talked about as a top five draft pick in the 2014 Major League draft.
“Bobby (Towne) is a warrior. He came back from a hurt shoulder Monday and pitched the best game of his career,” the Mustang mentor said of his own senior ace, who lasted just an inning in Monday’s Region 3-AAA opener in Cookeville after experiencing pain in his pitching shoulder during warm ups. Towne sat out Wednesday’s region title game in McMinnville, only being used as a pinch runner.
Getting medical clearance Friday morning, Towne anxiously took the mound Friday night and silenced the potent Tullahoma bats, allowing just two hits and needing just 89 pitches in the extra-inning shutout performance. The new Cleveland State signee struck out a half dozen and issued only one free pass while facing just three batters in six of the game’s eight innings to improve his season record to 9-1.
“I jumped for joy when the doctor cleared me this morning,” related Towne. “This first thing I’ve done all week when I wake up was to rotate my arm to see how it felt and its been feeling good.”
“We think I had a pinched tendon. The doctor put me on some anti-inflammatory medicine and I’ve been icing it and doing (electronic stimulus) treatments,” he explained. “The more I saw the fans coming in tonight, even during the game, the more adrenaline I felt. I always want to pitch well, especially in front of a big home crowd.”
Towne was quick to praise the Mustang defense for the shutout and the opportunity to win. “They guys made some great defensive plays behind me and that pumped me up as well.”
Cleveland State signee third baseman Chris Caffrey made a nice stop diving to his left and adjusting for a bad hop then getting up and firing to first to end the opening at bat. Towne, who handled four “comebackers” himself, closed out the top of the second with a “look what I found” stab off a bullet shot right back at him.
Tullahoma senior Sebastian Carboneau opened the top of the third with a gap shot to right-center field for a triple, but on the very next pitch Mustang junior first baseman Caleb Longley gloved a hard sinking line drive to his left and then fired across the diamond to double the runner off.
The Wildcats got their second and final hit to open the fifth frame when senior Jordan Moore singled and then was bunted to second. Towne answered the challenge by striking out the next batter looking, and then getting the last batter on a weak comebacker to the mound.
He also worked out of trouble in the seventh when the game’s only error once again allowed the visitors to get the lead off man on base. After another sac bunt that Towne handled, he notched another K. After the Wildcat baserunner stole third, Tullahoma’s Austin Creasman was hit with a 2-2 pitch to put runners on the corner. Undaunted, Towne bounced right back with another strikeout to end the threat.
After Towne got a backwards K to open the top of the eighth, and an easy fly ball that Chase Prince handled in right field, Broome turned in one of the best defensive plays of the evening when he leapt high into the air to snag a hard line drive that could have easily results in an extra-base hit.
“I didn’t know I could get up that high,” chuckled the 5-foot-6 senior second baseman. “I just jumped as high as I could and was able to glove it.”
But his most exciting play of the night was still to come.
Although Walker Valley had gotten a pair of base runners on in the opening inning, thanks to a walk by Simmons and Caffrey being hit by a pitch, the only Mustang hit off the elder Sheffield brother in the first seven at bats was an infield single by Caffrey to lead off the bottom of the fourth. In a little payback for Longley’s double play in the third, Wildcat shortstop Zach Lampkin was able to glove a shoe-top liner and throw to first for the double play.
In the bottom of the eight, Sheffield struck out the first two batters, but then Broome was able to work him for a walk. After Broome made a daring swipe of second on the next pitch, Towne got plunked for the 18th time this season.
Tullahoma coach Brad White then decided to bring in the younger Sheffield to the mound to face the left-handed swinging Simmons. After some impressive warm up fireballs, he got Simmons in a 1-2 hole, but the Mustang senior felt like he knew what was coming next.
“He had thrown a couple of good fastballs and I figured he’d come with a curve, so I stayed back and was able to connect with it,” Simmons said of his game-winning hit. “It’s the kind of situation you dream about. Getting the game-winning hit to send your team to the state tournament.”
When the ball shot into right field, Broome rounded third base and headed for home. As he approached the plate the Wildcat catcher, who was a half foot taller and a good 60 pounds heavier than Broome, stepped in front of the plate, despite not having the ball.
“I had already determined I was going to slide head first and when he moved over to block the plate I was already starting to dive,” Broome related. The result was the Mustang senior catching the opponent in the midsection and doubling him over as Broome fought for the dish. The Tullahoma catcher remained on the ground for several minutes as the Mustangs celebrated but was able to get up after regaining his breath.
“There wasn’t anything going to keep me from that plate,” declared Broome. “I knew as soon as the ball was hit, I was going to score.”
“Matthew (Simmons) came up with a great swing and a hit that made Mustang history,” praised coach Shamblin. “There was no thought of holding Jared (Broome) up at third. This was our chance to win it and we did.”
Jordan Sheffield dropped his first of eight decisions this season despite striking out seven Mustangs and giving up just one infield hit. He walked three and hit a pair while throwing 104 pitches. It was the third loss of the season to a District 5-AAA team for Tullahoma (26-11). The Wildcats fell to Bradley Central (10-4) and Ooltewah (13-1) in midseason tournament play.
MUSTANGS 1, WILDCATS 0
Tullahoma 000 000 00 — 0 2 0
Walker Valley 000 000 01 — 1 2 1
WP: Bobby Towne (9-1) 8 IP, 6 Ks, 1 HBP, 2 H, 0 ER. LP: Jordan Sheffield (7-1) 7.2 IP 7 Ks, 3 BB, 2 HBP, 1 H, 1 ER. 3B: Sebastian Charboneau (T). RBI: Matthew Simmons (WV). Highlights: Simmons 1-for-3, BB, GWRBI; Jared Broome 2 BB, SB, scored GW run; Chris Caffrey 1-for-2, HBP (WV). Records: Walker Valley 27-11; Tullahoma 26-11.