COOKEVILLE — One of the signs of a strong team is to be able to overcome adversity.
That’s what Walker Valley’ Mustangs did Monday night after an unexpected problem put them in a quick 2-0 hole, but they rallied to earn their second straight TSSAA substate berth.
“This was really a team victory,” declared coach Joe Shamblin after an unexpected pitching change resulted in four shutout innings, while the Mustang bats exploded for 13 runs in the final two frames to invoke the “mercy-rule” on District 6-AAA champ Cookeville.
“(Coach) Dustin (McPherson) was able to get Matthew (Simmons) ready in a hurry and he (Simmons) came on and did a great job. Coach (Steve) Longley had our hitters ready to hit and it all came together,” praised Shamblin.
The 13-2 victory on the Cavaliers’ home field not only advances the Mustangs to Wednesday evening’s Region 3-AAA championship game, but also gives Walker Valley (25-11) a shot at a state tournament berth in Friday’s sectional playoffs.
“Shamblin’s Stallions” will gallop to McMinnville tomorrow evening to face Warren County (21-17), which also upset a district champ Monday evening when it ended Ooltewah’s season with a 4-3, nine-inning upset. Game time is 7 p.m.
“It means another long trip for us, but if we can win Wednesday, then we’ll get to play at home Friday and that’s always an advantage, especially in a substate game,” Shamblin remarked. Last year the Mustangs had to make the 400-plus mile round trip to Columbia for the sectional, falling to the Lions in a classic 2-0 pitching duel between a pair of Tennessee signees.
Columbia saw its season end Monday night as Murfreesboro Riverdale, the District 7-AAA winner, claimed a 1-0 victory and will travel to District 8-AAA champ Tullahoma, a 3-2 victor over Siegel, for Wednesday’s Region 4-AAA final.
Walker Valley’s problems started before the first pitch Monday evening as ace Bobby Towne (8-1, with an 0.79 ERA) felt a sharp pain in his pitching shoulder while warming up. “He said it didn’t feel like a pull or a pop, just a pain,” explained McPherson, the Mustang pitching coach.
With the team’s season on the line in the do-or-die contest, the senior “sucked it up” and took the hill in the bottom of the first, but four walks, an infield hit and a single led to a pair of Cookeville runs before he could record the third out.
When Walker Valley came in the dugout to bat, McPherson pulled Simmons aside and told him to get ready, he was going in. The senior lefty, who had shut out Ooltewah to force a second district championship game in his last outing, accepted the challenge. After giving up a double to the first batter he faced, Simmons set down 11 Cavaliers in a row, including four by strikeout.
A pair of two-out singles in the bottom of the fifth were the only other hits the home team managed off Simmons, who improved to 4-0, lowered his ERA to 1.19 and ran his current shutout streak to 17 innings. The last run the crafty left-hander surrendered was a home run in the opening inning of the April 21 game against Knox Halls.
“Matthew (Simmons) has been clutch for us this season,” proclaimed Shamblin. “He has kept us in ball games and given us a chance to win.”
On the offensive side Monday, the Mustangs got a pair of two-out hits, a double from Cleveland State signee Chris Caffrey in the first and a single by sophomore Bradley Smith, plus a two-out walk to junior Josh Poole in the second, but none were able to score.
After going down in order in the third inning, Walker Valley got things going in the fourth. Junior Caleb Longley led off the at bat with a walk, followed by a single from Tennessee Wesleyan signee Logan Longwith. Junior Jake Ward then brought up chalk down the left field line for a double to plate the first two of his four RBIs on the day, and the rout was on.
After Poole reached on an error, pinch runner Jake Young came in to score on a sacrifice bunt attempt by senior Jared Broome that turned into an error when he was hit with the throw to first.
With runners on second and third, Towne dropped down a perfect squeeze bunt to plate courtesy runner Austin Scott. Simmons then helped his own cause with a fielder’s choice groundout to plate Broome for the final score of the five-run rally.
After Simmons set the Cavaliers down in order in the bottom of the fourth, the Mustang batters put a 7-spot on the board in the top of the fifth as they hammered five Cookeville pitchers for five hits, including a double by Longley to open the frame, three walks, a hit batsman and two more fielding errors to give the game its final 11-run difference
Walker Valley’s 10 hits were spread out among seven batters, with Ward, Smith and Simmons rapping two apiece. Ward, Longley and Caffrey each knocked a double, while seven players drove in at least one run — Ward (4), Simmons (2), Towne, Smith, Broome, Caffrey, and Longley.
MUSTANGS 13, CAVALIERS 2
Walker Valley 000 58 — 13 10 0
Cookeville 200 00 — 2 5 4
WP: Matthew Simmons (4-0) 4 IP, 4 Ks, 0 BB, 3 H, 0 ER. LP: Ryan Eberle 4 IP, 1 K, 2 BB, 6 H, 4 ER. 2B: Jake Ward, Chris Caffrey, Caleb Longley (WV); Jeffrey Riedel (C). RBI: Ward 4, Matthew Simmons 2, Bobby Towne, Bradley Smith, Jared Broome, Caffrey, Longley (WV); John David Edgington, Alex Dixon (C). Highlights: Ward 2-for-4, 4 RBI, 2B, r; Longley 1-for-2, BB, 2B, RBI, 2 r; Caffrey 2-for-4, 2B, RBI; Smith 2-for-4, RBI, r; Josh Poole 2 BB, reached on error; Broome RBI-BB, reached on error, 2 r (WV). Records: Walker Valley 25-11; Cookeville 26-8.