The top two seeds advanced to the winners-bracket final, but it could just as easily have been the third and fourth seeds advancing in the District 6-AA baseball tournament.
Central edged fourth seed Hixson 1-0 with a run in the bottom of the seventh inning, and No. 2 East Hamilton clipped Red Bank 3-2 despite being no-hit by Red Bank's Hagen Wilkey. But the Hurricanes got an 11-strikeout showing from Matty Henshaw.
"It's a shame for Hagen to suffer his second loss of the year despite pitching a no-hitter," Red Bank coach Trey Hicks said.
"Hagen was tremendous," East Hamilton coach Steve Garland said. "We knew he'd be good. Without a doubt he is one of the better players in the area, but baseball can be a funny, quirky game."
Ask Hixson's Wildcats, a 10-20 team that stood toe-to-toe with 26-7 Central only to fall in the Pounders' last at-bat.
Again, it was pitching. Tristan Wood limited the Wildcats to 10 hits -- striking out 10 -- for his eighth win of the year. Hixson's Alex Pruitt scattered seven hits and picked off three Purple Pounders baserunners.
However, it was a pickoff by Central that probably decided the game. Pounders catcher Ryan Poole caught a runner in a fifth-inning third-to-home rundown and then threw to shortstop Colton Morgan, who was covering third, to catcher a runner trying to advance from second.
"That was a huge coaching mistake on my part," Hixson coach Shane Roberson said. "I wanted our guy to break for home to maybe rattle the pitcher, but not 30 feet. I should have been more specific on exactly what I wanted, but Central came through with the hits, and this is not the first time they've won a game in the seventh."
The Pounders had not played in 10 days and coach Glen Carter said the layoff showed.
"That's the best one-run win I've ever been involved with," he said. "Our baserunning was horrific. We had at least four blunders, one by me. But 10 days off shouldn't affect baserunning. We have to clean that up."
Wilkey was victimized by five errors but also walked a couple of East Hamilton batters and hit another in crucial situations. The shaky defense just couldn't make the Lions' two first-inning runs hold up.
The Hurricanes' Henshaw, who gave up four first-inning hits, allowed just two more in the Lions' next six at-bats.
"I'm just really, really happy with Matty," Garland said of the junior. "This is a kid with tremendous character -- as solid a young person as you'll find in Chattanooga, in Tennessee, in the South, east of the Mississippi and maybe in the entire nation. I don't know if there's a better rock for a team than Matty."
Central and East Hamilton will play at 7 tonight at Hixson with the winner nailing down the district's No. 1 position for the Region 3-AA tournament that begins Monday. Because of the numerous days lost to rain, coaches decided to eliminate the tournament championship game. However, the loser of that game will play again Thursday against the winner of this afternoon's 4:30 game between Hixson and Red Bank. The top two teams will advance to the region.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...