“To get this far you have to be good and also get some breaks along the way and we’ve done that,” declared coach Joe Shamblin who is taking his third team in 10 years to the Final Four.
“We got a strong pitching performance from Matthew (Simmons) and our offense perked up with 11 hits. We just hope this run continues a couple more days,” the Mustangs’ mentor said of Wednesday’s 5-4 victory over Bearden at the Blue Cross Spring Fling.
Walker Valley (29-11) will take on that same Knoxville squad again this afternoon at 4 at Oakland High School in Murfreesboro. The Bulldogs (30-13) bounced back with a 2-1 elimination of Germantown Wednesday evening to secure its spot in the semifinals. Earlier in the day Germantown (29-15) sent Franklin (26-12) packing with a 9-6 win.
Bearden would have to defeat Walker Valley twice this evening to end the Mustang run, while “Shamblin’s Stallions” need just a single victory to earn a spot in Friday’s TSSAA title game at Middle Tennessee State University.
On the other side of the eight-team bracket, fifth-ranked Arlington (31-11) has come through the first two days unscathed. The Tigers knocked off ninth-ranked Riverdale (32-11) in the opening round but must face them again today.
Arlington defeated third-ranked Farragut (35-8) by a 7-5 margin Wednesday, before Riverdale sent the defending champs home in a 5-4 tally. The Warriors nipped second-ranked Mount Juliet (38-6) 4-3 in the day’s first game at Siegel High School.
The Mustangs started the game with a couple of base runners in the top of the first to no avail before the Bulldogs’ bats got started in the bottom of the inning with lead-off man Lance Thomas ripping a 3-2 pitch for a triple into the right-field corner, which was the beginning of the Mustangs quick descent into a shallow hole in the bottom of the first as the first four Bearden batters rapped hits, but only scored twice.
Derek Lance followed Thomas with a single to plate the game’s first run and after the next two batters loaded the bases with an infield single and a hit to left, Lance came home on a sacrifice fly.
“After giving up four straight hits and a couple of runs to start a game, a lot of guys would be done,” commented coach Shamblin. “Not Matthew. He dug in, got us out of that inning and gave up just two more hits the rest of the way.”
The Mustang bats got cranked up in the top of the third frame when junior catcher Josh Poole led things off with a double that brought up chalk down the left field line.
Senior Jared Broome then laid down a bunt and reached on an error as courtesy runner Austin Scott, who scored Tuesday’s game-winning run, moved to third. Cleveland State signee Bobby Towne singled Scott home. Simmons then beat out a bunt to load the bases.
Senior Chris Caffrey, who has also signed with CSCC, and junior Caleb Longley stroked back-to-back RBI singles to push Walker Valley into the lead.
The same two batters teamed up along with Tennessee Weselyan signee Logan Longwith in the top of the fifth frame for a pair of insurance runs.
Caffrey opened his at-bat with his third hit of the contest before Longley and Longwith both rapped run-scoring doubles. Longley’s blast landed on the warning track 380-feet from home plate in dead-center field to bring Caffrey all the way around from first, while Longwith painted the left-field line with his two-bagger.
Walker Valley cashed in that policy in the bottom of the inning as Thomas and Lance struck again for Bearden. This time it was Lance with the triple to bring in Thomas who had singled before scoinr himself on a sacrifice fly.
Once again, Simmons bowed his neck and got out nine of the next 10 Bulldogs to close out his fifth victory in as many decisions this season, including three in key postseason contests.
Simmons struck out seven and walked just two in his fourth complete game in five starts this season — two in the postseason to go with a six-inning relief victory over 10th-ranked Cookeville in the region opener.
“Matthew (Simmons) has a lot of confidence right now,” Shamblin said of the senior lefty. “He just throws it up there and says hit it if you can. He always works hard and never gives up.”
Caffrey led the Mustang hit parade, going 3-for-4, while Longley and Towne reached base three times as well with a pair of hits and a walk apiece.
Although his team left nine runners on base, including bases loaded twice, Shamblin is happy the bats are ringing after getting just three hits in Tuesday’s 1-0 victory over Germantown.
MUSTANGS 5, BULLDOGS 4
Walker Valley 003 020 0 — 5 11 1
Bearden 200 020 0 — 4 6 2
WP: Matthew Simmons (5-0) 7 IP, 7 Ks, 6 H, 2 BB, 4 ER. LP: Ty Hill 2 IP, 0 Ks, 0 BB, 7 H, 3 ER. 3B: Lane Thomas, Derek Lance (B). 2B: Caleb Longley, Logan Longwith, Josh Poole (WV). RBI: Longley 2, Bobby Towne, Chris Caffrey, Longwith (WV); Lance 2, Ronnie Broyles, Jordan Wall (B). Highlights: Caffrey 3-for-4, RBI, r; Longley 2-for-3 2B, BB, 2 RBI, r; Towne 2-for-3, BB, reached on error, RBI, r (WV). Records: Walker Valley 29-11; Bearden 29-13.