Rusty Signal Mountain had to come from behind and Sequatchie County had to hold on, but both advanced from lose-and-pack-it-in District 7-AA tournament baseball games Thursday.
Signal fell behind 3-0 but rallied for a 10-3 victory over Bledsoe County. Sequatchie, on the road, upended Notre Dame 2-1.
Surviving the single-elimination games allowed the two to advance to best-of-three series that begin today. Signal Mountain will play at regular-season runner-up Chattanooga Christian at 6 p.m., and Sequatchie will play at 6:30 EDT at Grundy County, the regular-season champion. The series will move to Signal and Sequatchie for Saturday games.
Bledsoe put together three first-inning runs on a walk, a misplayed infield pop-up, a single by Ben Dean and Blake Sorrow's sacrifice fly.
The infield skyball, had it been caught, might have gotten Eagles starter Grant Hensley out of a jam, but he and his teammates struggled in each of the first two innings, when they committed four of their five errors.
"I think we were all a little nervous after they scored three runs. We hadn't played in a week, and I think it took us a little while to get loose," Signal catcher Chris Feemster said in a postgame analysis.
Although he logged two of his six strikeouts in the first inning, Hensley didn't really get loose until the top of the third.
"Senior night had been scheduled earlier in the week and then got bumped to tonight because of the weather," Eagles coach Bumper Reese said. "Grant normally takes 35 minutes to get loose before the game, but tonight he only took 20."
It wound up being enough. After the 36-pitch first inning, he gave up only hit over the next four innings before giving way to Jackson Etter.
"He got ahead, worked ahead in the count and pretty much hit his spots and wound up throwing a Grant Hensley-type game, and we finally got some runs in the fourth," Reese said.
When they failed to score early, the Eagles seemed to begin to press -- they failed nearly a dozen times to get down a bunt -- and Reese told them just to keep making contact.
"They were hitting it hard, but we had nothing to show for it," he said. "I told them to relax and just keep hitting it hard, that some would begin to fall. They did. I told them to keep swinging and [the Warriors] might kick one, and they did."
The Eagles' third inning provided a haymaker to upset-minded Bledsoe. They scored five times on two errors and three hits, the biggest of which was a two-out, bases-clearing double by Jake Carmichael.
They added another pair of demoralizing runs on a Charlie Trageser single, an error and Feemster's looping single to left field.
"It wasn't the best-looking game, but we lived to play again," Reese said, "and in a single-elimination game, I'll take it any way I can get it."
In Sequatchie's victory at Notre Dame, Austin McGowan and Troy Sanders had run-scoring hits and Jordan Henry struck out five in his fifth pitching win of the season.
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.
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 ...