PIKEVILLE, Tenn. - Dustin Smith didn't say much. The Bledsoe County baseball coach was looking for his Warriors to slip into cruise control, even after they gave up a first-inning run on back-to-back errors.
"I didn't say a whole lot," Smith related after Bledsoe's 4-1 victory behind pitcher Chad Cagle in the opening elimination game of the District 7-AA tournament Thursday. "Unless it gets way out of hand, I let the kids handle it themselves. Most of the time they get it under control."
The Warriors got the run back in their first at-bat on Zack Campbell's double and Taylor Warden's single and took the lead for good in the second.
"It was win or go home, the biggest game we've played," said Smith, who is in his ninth season as Bledsoe's head coach. "I don't know when was the last time a Bledsoe baseball team advanced past the elimination game."
A shortstop when he isn't on the mound, Cagle worked his fastball to perfection, allowing just one hit -- a game-beginning infield single that the Irish's Nick Chambers beat out. Chambers took second on an errant throw to first and came around to score on a botched fielder's choice.
"This was a pretty good performance. I enjoyed it," Cagle said.
His best outing was 14 strikeouts versus Whitwell, and he struck out 13 against Signal Mountain. He finished with 10 against the Irish, who managed to hit just two balls, both flyouts, to the outfield.
The Warriors put the game out of reach -- considering how Cagle was handcuffing Notre Dame batters -- in the fourth. Ben Dean singled and went to third on Blake Sorrow's double before Cagle tripled.
While Notre Dame ended its season with a 12-13 record, Bledsoe County (11-10) moved into a best-two-of-three series with Signal Mountain. The first game is scheduled for 6 tonight at Signal. In the other semifinal series, Sequatchie County will host Chattanooga Christian in their two-of-three opener.
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-886-4765.