BENTON, Tenn. - Polk County coach Bill Triplett has had a recurring theme in his postseason post-practice team chats.
"Pitching and defense is what has to carry us," he has said repeatedly.
It was Jared Allen's pitching Monday in a Region 3-AA semifinal that led to a win at Red Bank and it was pitching again on Wednesday as the Wildcats, playing at home, posted a 7-2 victory over East Hamilton to capture the region championship.
This time it was Tyler Lee, allowing one run and four hits in five innings, who led the charge.
"We got a great pitching performance today," Triplett said. "I have told the guys over and over that we weren't going to hit our way into the state tournament. We have now had two outstanding pitching performances."
The Wildcats will host the Region 4-AA runner-up, either DeKalb County or Livingston Academy, on Friday while East Hamilton will be on the road to play the winner of that game. DeKalb bested Chattanooga Christian and Livingston defeated Notre Dame earlier this week.
Lee's pitching performance came at an opportune time because East Hamilton pitchers Patrick Parris and Nick Ungos allowed Allen and Michael Hargrove - most often the Wildcats' offensive catalysts - just one hit. Between them the pair had one official at-bat, a third-inning home run that Allen muscled over the right-field fence with a partial swing.
"I don't think I have ever had a game where I didn't have at least one official at-bat," said Hargrove, the Wildcats' cleanup hitter. "I'll take it. I don't care. I'll do it every day if we get to the state tournament."
Allen was one-for-one, getting hit by a pitch in his first appearance and then receiving an intentional walk in the fifth. Hargrove was intentionally walked in the first, got hit by a pitch in the third and then dropped a sacrifice bunt in the fifth. Each wound up scoring twice.
Lee didn't just pitch. He also had a run-scoring single in the first that was followed by a single down the third-base line from designated hitter Duncan Coffee that scored Hargrove.
"This [win] was a team effort. We got some great pitching, and the lower half came through with some key hits," Hargrove said.
Alex Akins, the No. 6 hitter had a double, a single and scored a run and Coffee added a pair of RBI singles.
"Every day in practice we stress to each of the guys that one day your number is going to be called and we got some clutch two-out hits today," Triplett said. "It's now how many hits you get but when you get them."
The Wildcats managed seven hits off Parris and Ungos.
"I think we just beat a pretty good ball club," Triplett said of East Hamilton, which scored a run in the fourth on Logan Templeton's sacrifice fly and another in the seventh on Parris' solo home run.
East Hamilton finished with five hits, two of those from leadoff man Logan Jackson.