A year ago Joseph Wharton rarely got close to a baseball field. As a matter of fact, the Chattanooga Christian pitcher hadn't come close to a uniform the previous two seasons.
Yet it was his number that was called Tuesday afternoon and he scattered eight hits, allowing a single earned run, as the Chargers edged favored Signal Mountain 5-3.
Wharton's sixth win without a loss enabled CCS to win District 7-AA's regular-season championship and secure the top seed for the postseason tournament that starts next week.
"He pitched great — didn't try to do too much," assessed Signal coach Josh Gandy. "He threw three pitches for strikes and kept us off-balance, and when he had to make the pitch he made it."
Wharton even impressed his big brother, first-year Chargers coach Ben Wharton.
"He pitched quite well," said the elder Wharton, who has been his brother's biggest critic, adviser and cheerleader.
"I had no idea I'd be pitching this game, but it's a nice feeling," said Joseph, who now has strung together 14 innings without issuing a walk. "I felt confident."
Signal drew first blood with a run in the first inning, but CCS rallied for three in the bottom half on Justin Wheeler's leadoff double, an error, a pair of stolen bases and two wild pitches.
The Chargers would wind up stealing eight bases although Signal catcher Garrett Hensley threw out two.
It's the force-the-issue type baseball that Coach Wharton has encouraged from his team.
"We created more opportunities than it hurt us. We try to get pitchers out of their comfort zone," he said. "We would've had a couple more, but their catcher put it right on the money twice."
Wheeler, who went 2-for-3, drove in a run in the second and the Chargers added an insurance run in the fourth on the third Signal error.
Hensley had two doubles, a single and an RBI, and the Eagles' other RBI belonged to Collin Farr on a sacrifice fly.
The Eagles were missing cleanup hitter and center fielder Grant Galbraith. The senior, a Jacksonville State signee, was relegated to the bench after getting spiked in Monday's game. He had to have six stitches that night to close a gash in the meaty part of his right hand just below the first knuckle of his index finger.
"He's in the middle of the lineup, the fastest guy on the field, a great outfielder and something of a vocal leader as well, and he's a competitor," Gandy said.
Hensley and Wheeler were the only batters with multiple-hit games.
While CCS will be the district tournament's No. 1 seed, Signal Mountain will be No. 2. The tournament begins with the No. 3 team playing the No. 6 team and the fourth- and fifth-place teams battling in play-in games. Those winners advance to the best-of-three series against CCS and Signal.
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.