Sale Creek's baseball team did not hesitate.
Senior Braden Penny and the Panthers lineup came out red hot as they scored seven runs in the first inning to propel the program to its first district championship since 1979, defeating Tellico Plains, 8-5 for the 4-A crown Tuesday.
"This win means so much to the entire program. Our goal all season was to win this game and keep pushing past it," said Penny, the senior shortstop/pitcher who is batting .487 this season with 17 extra base hits, 16 stolen bases and 43 runs scored. "We all rallied together and have become such a close team. We really have worked our hardest for this moment and pushed one another to get here."
Penny, a Carson Newman football signee, led off the bottom of the first by lacing a double to the left field fence. That was just the start as the Panthers collected seven of their 15 hits in the inning, including a double by Camden Penny and triple by Seth Hodge, all against a standout pitcher who had shut them out earlier in the season.
While the Bears battled their way back, junior standout Jakob Elrod came on in relief to close the door on a memorable victory, striking out eight and only allowing two runs over five innings in which he labored through 106 pitches.
"We came out fighting and firing in that first inning because we knew that pitcher was good and he beat us on our home field last time," said Elrod who also tripled, doubled and scored twice. "We wanted this bad because the last time we won a district championship was forever ago. We all have each other's backs and we want to keep pushing and find a way to get to state this year."
Junior standout Camden Penny went 4-for-4 with a pair of doubles while he and Tyler Layman each drove in two runs for Sale Creek (16-7), which has taken two out of three against Tellico this season.
Panthers coach Jimmy Pierce took a great amount of pride in his group after the championship victory and complemented his team on how calm and collected they were.
Elrod got out of a big jam in the sixth when he stranded the bases loaded with a crucial strikeout. Camden Penny would then add an insurance run with a double to deep centerfield that plated Elrod for an 8-4 lead.
"This group has been working so hard for this the last 2-3 years," Pierce said. "They get here early and have stayed late this season. We have some true students of the game and it's a great group. They have been waiting for this for a long time.
"We just have to enjoy this and get ready for the next one and see if we can keep this train on its track and take care of things in the region tournament."
Contact Patrick MacCoon at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.