“Seven walks and six errors won’t win you a Little League game, much less an important game like this,” declared first-year Wildcat coach Michael Carter after the 10-9 defeat. “Our offense did well. We had good, quality at bats that produced runs, but we literally let the game slip through our legs defensively.”
“Thirty-one games into the season you shouldn’t be making those kind of mistakes,” he bemoaned. “We were hoping to go at least a step further and felt like we had a good chance with the way things lined up, but we just couldn’t finish it off.”
The Wildcats had a pair of five-run leads in the contest, but giving the host Lions six unearned runs (eight total) in their final three at bats allowed Red Bank to rally for the victory and a spot in tonight’s region championship game against Sequoyah, a 9-5 winner over Chattanooga Central in the other semifinal matchup.
After making the TSSAA state tournament last season, Polk County finishes this year with an 18-13 mark.
The Wildcats jumped on top quickly, taking advantage of back-to-back walks to Collin Wimberley and Al Akins to start the game. After a fielder’schoice erased Akins and put runners on the corners, junior Duncan Coffey helped his own cause with a sacrifice fly to plate the game’s first run. Sophomore Matt Hammons then stroked a two-out single for the first of his five RBI on the day.
After Red Bank (18-20) evened the game with a pair of second inning scores, Polk County responded with a couple of two-out runs of its own in the top of the third. Hammons doubled just inside the left field line on the warning track for the game’s only extra-base hit, which plated Coffey, who had reached on a Lion error. Junior Andrew Aldridge brought Hammons home with a single.
The Wildcats put up a 3-spot in their next at bat to push the lead to five for the first time in the contest. Sophomores Javan Simpson and Chris Wimberley, plus seniors collin Wimberley and Akins opened the frame with four straight single, the latter of which brought in the first run. After Red Bank made a pitching change, the next two Polk batters got out before Hammons delivered again, this time with a two-run single.
Red Bank got two of the runs back in the bottom of the frame as both scores came on a two-out ’Cat fielding miscue.
The District 6-AA champion Lions took the lead in their next at bat with four unearned runs crossing the plate thanks to back-to-back Polk errors.
The “Boys from Benton” bounced back to regain control when Collin Wimberley reached on a bunt single to open the sixth inning before Akins walked and Brown beat out a bunt to load the bases. For the second time in the game, Coffey plated Collin Wimberley on a sac fly before Hammons brought in Akins for a 9-8 lead.
Red Bank rallied for a pair of runs in the bottom of the inning with the first five batters reaching base with a pair of singles, a hit batsman, a walk and a fielder’s choice. The game-winner crossed the plate on a bases-loaded slow roller that was bobbled before throwing the batter out at first.
Polk was able to get a base runner in the seventh inning with a two-out walk to Collin Wimberley, but the game ended shortly thereafter on a grounder up the middle that allowed the Lion shortstop to step on second base for the force-out.
“This is a tough loss to handle,” proclaimed coach Carter. “I feel like we handed it to them. We battled well at the plate all game but our defense has been our Achilles’ heel all season.”
“Everything was lined up for us with Red Bank having beaten East Hamilton (a 30-win team) in the district, but they (Red Bank) are a better team than their records indicates,” Carter added. “They are a lot like us in that they have played a lot of AAA teams during the season.”
The Wildcats lose just two seniors (Collin Wimberley and Akins) off this year’s squad and Carter expects them to be improved next year after another season of summer ball under their belts.
LIONS 10, WILDCATS 9
Polk County 202 302 0 — 9 8 6
Bradley Central 020 242 x — 10 7 3
WP: Hagan Wilkey LP: Justin Brown. 2B: Matt Hammonds, (PC). RBI: Hammonds 5, Duncan Coffey 2, Andrew Aldridge, Alex Akins (PC); Greg Winton 2, Hunter Romans 2, DJ Hale (RB). Highlights: Hammonds 3-for-4, 5 RBI, 2B r; Collin Wimberley 2-for-3, 2 BB, 3 r; Alex Akins 1-for-3, 2 BB, RBI, r (PC). Records: Polk County 18-13; Red Bank 18-20.