LEBANON, Tenn. - The hardest throw Tyler Payne made all day didn't come during his six innings of work on the mound. The great majority of the McCallie junior's 126 pitches were breaking balls or off-speed, but after switching to shortstop in the seventh inning he fired a fastball strike to first base to complete a game-ending double play, as the Blue Tornado beat Baylor 3-2 to advance to the Division II-AA baseball championship series.
"I put everything I had on that throw," Payne said. "I just wanted to get it there and get this game over because we were all getting nervous."
Trailing 3-0 going into the seventh, Baylor loaded the bases with no outs, then began to chip away at the deficit. Alex Armstrong walked to force in a run and Sterling Stewart grounded into a fielder's choice to drive in another run, leaving runners at the corners with one out before John Hennen fielded a grounder and spun to make the throw to Payne at second to begin the game-ending double play.
The Blue Tornado (27-10) will face Memphis University School in today's title game at 1:30 EDT at Middle Tennessee State University's Reese Smith Jr. Field. MUS beat Baylor 6-2 in Wednesday's loser's bracket final.
The win was the first for McCallie in four meetings with the Red Raiders, a streak that had included two one-run losses in the regular season.
The Blue Tornado got its first run in the first inning when Payne led off with a walk, stole second and third and scored on Christian Burnett's fielder's choice. Payne made that lead stand through six innings, scattering four hits and striking out nine, mostly on knee-bending curveballs.
"He's pitched more innings this season than he has in his whole life," said McCallie coach and Tyler's dad Greg Payne. "I know he's my son, but he's also one of the most mentally tough kids I've ever coached, and he proved that against a really good hitting team today."
Coming off the field after the third inning, Tyler looked at his dad and said, "I can give you a couple more innings." But after making quick work of Baylor batters in the fourth, the righthander seemed to get his second wind and stayed on the mound into the seventh.
After giving up the first-inning run, Baylor freshman Wilson Maclellan matched Payne pitch for pitch, allowed just two hits and the one earned run before being relieved in the sixth.
McCallie added two runs in the bottom of the sixth on Ethan Cady's two-run single and as it turned out, that was needed insurance.
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.