It had been a long and uncomfortable dry spell for Boyd-Buchanan's baseball team, which entered the season with high hopes of extended postseason play.
The Buccaneers, though, hadn't seen a victory since the second day of the season, suffering a seven-game losing streak, and if it took free baseball to secure a win then so be it.
They went nine innings in their Central Invitational opener at Hixson before getting past the vastly improved Wildcats, 7-6 in nine innings.
"Two hours isn't bad for a nine-inning game," Bucs coach Josh Ryder said. "We'll absolutely take free baseball if that's what it takes."
After winning its first two games, Boyd-Buchanan hit a skid that didn't stop until Thursday evening.
"I've never experienced anything like that in my life -- playing or coaching," Ryder said. "We haven't felt what it was like to win since the Tuesday of opening week. We hadn't been getting blown out, other than Mount Juliet. We were in every game. We'd scald the ball and it would be right at somebody, or we'd make an error and it would turn into five runs."
Even in Thursday's win, the Bucs surrendered five second-inning runs, three of them unearned. That was after blowing out to a three-run lead in the bottom of the first.
After Hixson got its five in the second -- keyed by an error and Alex Prewitt's three-run double -- the Bucs rallied in the bottom of the third on a Wildcats error and Hunter Payne's two-run single to right field.
The Wildcats tied it in the top of the seventh on another Prewitt single. They threatened in the ninth, but John Sewell got an inning-ending strikeout.
Boyd-Buchanan then scored the winner. Payne was hit by a pitch and Josh Antwine sacrificed him into scoring position, setting the stage for veteran Jim Cardwell. A battle-tested senior on both football and baseball fronts, Cardwell slapped a first-pitch game-winning single to right-center.
"He's been on all year long -- pretty much two hits a game all season -- and he has free rein up there," Ryder said.
Hixson stranded five baserunners, wasting a quality relief outing by lefty Tanner Moylan, who surrendered three third-inning runs before settling in with a no-hit showing over the next five innings.
While it was disappointing, Hixson looks to be vastly improved over the previous three seasons.
"I keep telling them it's the little things that get you beat," first-year Wildcats coach Colton Gree said. "A botched double play cost us three runs. We had runners on third with one out and failed to score them, and we didn't get bunts down to move runners over at crucial times. Boyd-Buchanan did those things, especially in that last inning."
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.
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 ...