MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Two strikes, no worries.
South Pittsburg senior Mason Fuqua twice delivered run-scoring hits after having two strikes on him, helping lead his team to a 5-3 win over Trinity Christian in a Class A opening-round state-tournament game Tuesday evening at Middle Tennessee Christian School.
"I try not to press too much. I just waited for my pitch and tried to hit it hard somewhere," said Fuqua, who went 3-for-3 with the two RBIs. "I was waiting on a fastball both times, and he threw two that I got a good read on. That was his mistake.
"I just go up there relaxed and trying to have fun."
The top of the Pirates order certainly had fun, as each of the first four collected at least one hit, including cleanup hitter Garrett Raulston's two-run double in the third. The Pirates (24-10) will play defending state champion Loretto (32-2), which blasted University High of Johnson City 13-1, today at 1:30 p.m. EDT
South Pittsburg's Cade Kennemore singled to lead off the home half of the first inning, stole second and trotted home on Fuqua's first single. Kennemore scored twice, helping give senior pitcher E.J. Cagle plenty of early run support.
Fuqua also made a clutch defensive play from behind the plate in the second inning when he picked off Zachary Tims at third base after the Lions (26-7) had runners on third and second with no outs but wound up not scoring.
"That play changed the whole momentum of the game," said Pirates coach Brian Paris, whose team is making its first state tournament appearance in six years. "He made a great throw to catch the kid off the base too far and turned the complexion around for us.
"Those early runs were huge. Jumping out early like that certainly helps settle the nerves for everybody. It wasn't pretty — we had trouble throwing strikes at times and didn't make some plays we normally would — but we did what we had to do to get off on the right foot here."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.