By Michael Lindsay
The Upperman Bees are a win away from the TSSAA Class 3A state baseball tournament following Wednesday’s split with East Hamilton in the sectional round in Baxter.
The defending state champion Bees won game 1 of the best-of-3 series, 6-4, before falling in game 2, 3-1. The teams are set to face off Thursday in Baxter at 6 p.m. with a state tournament berth on the line.
“We’ve got a chance tomorrow,” said Upperman head coach Wes Shanks. “This is how it’s supposed to play out. This is why you’ve got a 3-game series; they want that winner-take-all game. It’s one game to advance to the state tournament, and kudos to our guys for earning that.”
Upperman opened Wednesday’s doubleheader with a 6-4 win over East Hamilton.
“We put ourselves in a great situation in a difficult ball game and won the first one,” Shanks said. Which meant we weren’t going to go home tonight (Wednesday).”
Upperman Pitcher Eli Huddleston recorded the win as he struck out 10 batters while giving up up 4 hits and 1 earned run in 7 innings.
Game one was about capitalizing on mistakes as the teams combined for 7 errors. Upperman scored 5 runs via East Hamilton mistakes.
“We knew that coming in; put the ball in play and they might not make all those plays,” coach Shanks said. “The wind was a little bit of a factor the first game. There were some fly balls that were missed on both sides, and I think the big sectional game got to everybody. Our guys made a few mistakes and were able to battle through those.”
Upperman struck first in the bottom of the first inning as shortstop Caden Shanks scored on a passed ball to give the Bees a 1-0 lead.
The Hurricanes responded with 2 runs in the top of the second to take a 2-1 advantage at Upperman.
East Hamilton’s lead stood until the bottom of the fourth inning as Upperman’s Tyler Jared and Julian Llano scored on a missed pop fly in right to give the Bees a 3-2 lead.
The Hurricanes tied the game at 3 runs each in the top of the fifth inning before Upperman scored 3 runs on errors in the bottom of the frame. Bobby-Ray Kilpatrick and Justin Fallon scored on an error followed by a Ty Jared bunt resulting in another error and a Bee run to give Upperman a 6-3 lead going into the sixth inning.
The Hurricanes tacked on a run in the top of the sixth inning before Upperman ultimately held off East Hamilton to seal the 6-4 victory.
The second game was all East Hamilton as the Hurricanes defeated Upperman in a low-scoring contest, 3-1.
“We had the opportunity to sweep, but they threw a guy that was shutting us down,” coach Shanks said. “Our guy (Caden Shanks) did great out there; that was one of his best outings of the season.”
Caden Shanks struck out 11 batters and gave up only 3 hits in the game two loss.
Upperman, the visiting team in game two, scored in the top of the first inning as Shanks stole home to give the Bees a 1-0 lead.
East Hamilton responded with 2 runs in the bottom of the first to take a 2-1 lead.
The Hurricanes tacked on another run in the bottom of the second to extend their advantage to 3-1. Upperman had a runner in scoring position in the top of the fifth and 2 in the top of the seventh, but none were able to make it back home as East Hamilton evened the series with a 3-1 victory.
Game 3 is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday afternoon in Baxter.
“The good news is we’re about 10 minutes from our homes,” coach Shanks said. “We get to sleep in our same bed and keep our same routine. They have to drive two hours and do the travel; that’s taxing on them. We have to come with a positive mindset.”
Thursday’s pitching matchup will see Shanks and the Bees rely on a battle-tested arm.
“They (East Hamilton) had two quality guys tonight, and their #3 is a better strikeout-to-ball ratio than those first two guys,” Shanks said. “We’ll have Braden Williams, who I’ve put up against the top-tier teams in the state and he’s performed well.”
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