SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. - For the first time this season, Hunter Giles was not allowed to finish a game he started. But South Pittsburg's senior left-handed pitcher accepted being lifted early without much complaint Monday evening, knowing his team would need him again later this week.
After the Pirates scored seven runs in the home half of the fourth to take a commanding 12-0 lead over Grace Academy, Giles was replaced by Jacob Howard, who closed out the Region 3-A semifinal victory with a scoreless fifth.
South Pittsburg (33-2) will host rival Marion County at 7 p.m. EDT Wednesday in the region title game, with the winner of that matchup hosting a state sectional while the loser travels Friday.
"I didn't want to come out since we were so close to the game being over, but I understood why," said Giles (9-0), who threw just 59 pitches with nine strikeouts. "My goal is to finish every game and to strike out 10 each game, and I came up just short of those tonight. But I know my team will need me Friday, and that's more important because that's the one that could get us into the state tournament."
After pitching out of a two-on, one-out jam in the first inning, Giles began to get offensive support in the second when Howard doubled in a run and Jacob Toney followed with a home run in his first plate appearance since returning from a hand injury. Howard later had a two-run homer of his own and an RBI triple to finish 3-for-3 with five RBIs.
Blaze Moats also had a two-run homer and Matt Allen had two of the Pirates' seven stolen bases as they claimed their 18th win this season by the TSSAA's 10-run mercy rule.
"Howard struggled at the first of the year, but he's gotten back to being the line-drive hitter he should be instead of trying to pull everything, and that's made a big difference," Pirates coach Wesley Stone said. "He's absolutely killing the ball the last couple of weeks.
"We came out really swinging the bats well early, and that was huge to jump on them and not let them hang around. I was a little worried after our kids found out that Jasper had won and they were all excited about hosting the region championship. Grace is a good team and I was afraid our guys might be looking past them to Wednesday, but they didn't and that's a sign of a veteran team."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.