DUNLAP, Tenn. — Collin Hudson threw his baseball glove high in the air and made no effort to dodge the teammates who dogpiled on top of him just beyond the pitcher's mound.
Sequatchie County brought a Murfreesboro-or-bust mentality to its Class AA sectional Saturday, stealing seven bases in the first three innings and providing stellar defense behind ace Hudson for a 5-1 victory over Signal Mountain.
For the first time since 1996, the Indians are headed to the state tournament, which begins Tuesday. Sequatchie (25-10-1) opens against Loudon (23-9) at 7:30 p.m. EDT at Smyrna High School. Class AA games will also be played at Murfreesboro's Blackman High School, with the final set for Friday at Middle Tennessee State.
"This is big for all these guys, the community and our school," Sequatchie coach Derrin Easterly said. "We have a big-time fan whose name is Timmy who comes to every game he can, and our team loves him. To see him and everyone else so excited is special for us all."
Sequatchie senior Trevor Ritchie provided plenty of excitement. After a successful double steal by the Indians in the first inning, he singled to drive in the game's first two runs. In the third inning, Ritchie stole home as both pitcher and catcher were caught off guard.
Tyler Lynn's RBI single to left field made it 5-0 in the third.
"We always want to be aggressive on the basepaths but have to be smart," Ritchie said. "When we can steal bases, we have the bats to bring them in. I kept telling everybody to come watch us play this year because I had a feeling we were going to make it far."
Of Signal Mountain's four hits, leadoff batter Scott Payne had two, including an RBI double down the left-field line in the fifth. Payne was a tough out all postseason and part of a strong senior class for the Eagles (25-11).
Sequatchie sophomore third baseman Bodie Terry provided strong defense in the late innings, and Ritchie got under a fly ball to record the final out, setting off the celebration. Kollyn Cooper had three stolen bases for the Indians, who had one more steal than base hits (six) and feel confident headed to state.
"We belong there," Easterly said. "We didn't get there by chance or luck. We earned the right to go play. I think we have a shot to go up there and win it all. Of course things will have to go our way, but this team has the all the makings."
The combination of Sequatchie's star pitching duo of Hudson (11-0) and Austin Mitchell (8-1) — each has an ERA of 1.70 — and the Indians' speed should challenge opponents at state.
Hudson had six strikeouts Saturday, attacking hitters with early curves in the zone and hitting spots with his fastball when he was ahead in the count.
"My defense was killer again today behind me," Hudson said. "This run to state means everything. This program has flipped all the way around since when I first got here as a freshman. This is so surreal. We've gotten this far, so why stop now?"