BENTON — Polk County’s baseball dominance in District 5-AA may be in question today, after the Wildcats were smacked by Meigs County on Monday.
The Tigers, playing under a chilly and cloudy sky, staged a four-run uprising in the top of the sixth inning to wipe out a 2-1 Wildcat lead and give the visitors a 5-2 triumph.
The district opener for both teams was a thrill for the Meigs County players and coach Justin Jennings.
“This was one of our preseason goals (to beat Polk County),” said Jennings after the game. “Our seniors had never beaten them.”
Jennings also praised the solid pitching performance of senior left-hander Spencer Crabtree. “In his last outing he had a lot of walks,” said his coach. “It was great today that he didn’t stack up the walks.”
Crabtree was steady through all seven innings. He gave up five hits, but never allowed more than a single in any one inning.
“This was an absolutely great way to start our district season,” Jennings added.
Polk County coach Bill Triplett was disappointed with the loss, but more disappointed with his team’s performance.
“There was no phase of the game where we played well,” said Triplett after the defeat. “We didn’t hit the ball well, we didn’t pitch well, we didn’t field the ball well, and we didn’t play defense. If you don’t play good defense, you can’t win.”
Despite the disappointments, Triplett paid tribute to the Meigs County team and Crabtree. “He pitched well and it was a big win for them,” he said. “You have to give them credit. They came here prepared to play, and we didn’t.”
Polk County brought a 6-2 record into the Wildcats’ first 5-AA game of the year, and had beaten some of the better teams in the area. But, Monday was the Tigers’ day.
Still, Meigs County can’t rest on its laurels. The two teams are scheduled to square off again today, this time on the Tigers’ diamond.
Polk County standout Jared Allen, a University of Tennessee signee, was the starting pitcher for the Wildcats and was charged with the loss. He was taken out in the sixth inning for reliever Tyler Lee.
“I’m not going to leave a kid in who is approaching 100 pitches,” Triplett said emphatically after the game. “It’s too early in the season and I’m not going to take a chance of endangering one of our players ... any player.”
Allen pitched well, although he wasn’t exceptionally sharp. Many of his pitches were high above the strike zone as he collected a high pitch count. The Wildcat seniors had a 2-1 lead at the start of the sixth inning.
But, the Tigers exploded in the inning. A double, a walk, a single and a passed ball got the big right-hander out of the game. Lee came into the game and was also erratic. He didn’t give up a hit, but three walks, two wild pitches and another passed ball allowed the Tigers to score their four runs.
Crabtree seemed to get a boost from his team’s offensive production. He was sharp in the bottom of the sixth, protecting the Tigers’ three-run lead. He gave up a walk to open the inning, but came back with three consecutive strikeouts to set down the Wildcats.
Meigs County went one-two-three in the top of the seventh, and Polk County was faced with a three-run deficit with only three outs remaining.
Lee led off the final inning with a single, but a fly-out to right and a strikeout had Meigs County one out away from its biggest victory in years.
Crabtree issued another walk to give Polk County a chance, but a grounder to third and force of the runner from second ended the game.
The usually potent Wildcats took a lead in the game with a run in the third inning, capitalizing on two walks, an error and single by Allen. Polk County increased its lead to 2-0 in the fourth on a single by Justin Webb, a sacrifice bunt, a walk and a wild pitch.
Meigs County got one of the runs back in the top of the fifth. Jake Moon walked and advanced on a single by Ryan Goines. Crabtree and Heath Malone followed with singles to score a run, but Polk County got out of the inning when Goines tripped rounding third base and was caught in a rundown at third.
Then came the sixth inning, where Polk County mistakes allowed the Tigers to take the huge, 5-AA win.
Crabtree not only sparked the Tigers with his strong pitching performance, he also led the Tigers with two singles at the plate. First baseman Panama Belcher had a huge double to start the uprising in the sixth inning. Meigs County’s other hits, all singles, came from Goines, Heath Malone and Ryan Henry.
Allen had two singles for the Wildcats, while Justin Webb, Collim Wimberley and Lee had the team’s other three singles.
Crabtree notched 12 strikeouts and seven walks in his outing on the mound, while Allen had seven Ks and five walks for Polk County. Lee got the Wildcats’ final six outs, getting three strikeouts and three walks.
There was a good turnout for the game, although most of the fans were bundled up against the chilly temperatures in the foothills of the Cherokee National Forest.