A month ago the Red Bank High School baseball team was one of the many also-rans simply playing out the string.
"I've got one senior and I imagine he was wondering back in early May just why he had stuck around," coach Trey Hicks said.
The Lions entered the District 6-AA tournament seemingly ready to end a forgettable year, riding a 14-game losing streak.
Saturday, though, they yanked 2011-12 from forgettable to most memorable as they extended a fairy-tale comeback over the last two weeks with an 8-7, state tournament-clinching victory over Livington Academy. Their seventh win in eight postseason games required a late comeback, too.
The Lions went from so bad that their coach took an extra's role in the upcoming movie "42" about Jackie Robinson's rise to the big leagues to so hot that Hicks abruptly ended his short-lived film career because of his team's made-for-movies comeback.
The Lions still are a game under .500 at 20-21, but they are the first Red Bank baseball team in the school's lengthy history to secure a state tournament berth. They will join other Chattanooga-area teams Walker Valley (AAA), South Pittsburg (A) and Baylor (Division II) at the state championships in Murfreesboro beginningTuesday.
"The record? I don't care about the record. Everybody is going to Murfreesboro with a 0-0 record," Hicks said among hugs from players, fans, his parents and his grandparents.
The record that interests the coach most is the 7-1 in the last eight games, a performance that secured the Lions' third straight District 6-AA title, the Region 3 title and the state title berth.
"Nobody ever gave up," he said.
It was in evidence again early Saturday night when Tyler Phillips, the burly catcher and No. 3 hitter, staked the Lions to a 2-0 lead with a ringing homer and again late when postseason standout Hagen Wilkey slapped a bases-loaded double to left-center to give his team the 8-7 lead in the bottom of the sixth. Wilkey got his fifth playoff pitching win as well.
"We hadn't gotten off [scoring] first the entire postseason, but we found ways to pull things together," Phillips said.
In the sixth, Phillips was torn about taking a base after he got hit with a pitch, but as he said, "A run is a run.
"That's what we needed, and I knew Hagen was coming up behind me. He's been hot and I knew we'd find a way."
With Phillips, who got his third RBI when a run was forced home on his HBP, and Ryder Pierce and D.J. Hale aboard with two outs, Hicks called time to have a word with Wilkey.
"We were down three and I'm thinking to myself that we have been here before," Hicks said. "He walked up and said, 'Don't worry, Coach, I've got this.'"
He then drilled his double that gave the Lions the tying and eventual winning runs.
But then Wilkes had to go back to the mound in relief of Raunel Perez.
"That's the only time during this whole postseason that I have been nervous," Hicks said.
Wilkey struck out the first Wildcat, surrendered a single, induced a flyout to center and then allowed an infield single. He went 3-2 as he sought to get out No. 3. And he threw a knuckleball, something he'd been working on but also something he was surprised to see the coaches call with two strikes, two outs and two on.
It worked, leaving the batter whiffing.
It was a measure of the confidence Hicks has shown in this team.
"I'm 28 going on 42, though," the coach said. "I don't know how much of this my heart can take, but it has been these guys. I haven't done anything any differently the last two weeks. A lot of guys have stepped up big the last two weeks."
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...