JOHNSON CITY -- Science Hill coach Ryan Edwards said he knew it was going to be a dogfight when his team played Sullivan South in the Region I-AAA baseball finals on Wednesday -- and it was.
The Rebels spotted the Hilltoppers a 4-0 lead, but pulled within 4-3 on a three-run triple by Tristan Archer in the sixth and had the tying run on third when Daniel Sharp came on in relief of starter Lucas Anderson and struck out Stephen Owenby to get out of the jam.
The Hilltoppers then added a run on a double by Lance Reed and a single by Cory McPherson in the bottom of the sixth and Caleb Mancuso was able to close things out in the seventh to allow Science Hill to win the title, 5-3, and earn home-field advantage Friday against Knox Halls for a trip to the TSSAA State Tournament.
Halls lost to Knox Farragut, 7-5. South (25-12) will travel to Knoxville to take on the Admirals (38-3), while Science Hill (31-5) will test Halls (21-11). Both games are set for 7 p.m.
In Class AA play Wednesday, Unicoi County blanked Pigeon Forge on the road, 5-0, and earned a home date Friday against Knox Gibbs, a 3-1 loser to Anderson County. Anderson County will host Pigeon Forge in the other Class AA sectional.
In Class A, University High continued its late-season run with an 8-7 victory over Hancock County and will host a game Friday night with a chance to advance to state. The Junior Bucs will host Rockwood, a 13-3 loser to Harriman, while Hancock County will travel to Harriman on Friday.
"I told my kids before the game, 'I promise you, South is going to bring its best game tonight. It will be the best game they'd played against us all year.' And it was. But our guys were up to the challenge.
"I would much rather win a two-run game at this stage than one by seven or eight runs. I think winning a game like this gives you momentum going into Friday.''
"This was really good for us," Lucas Anderson, who was cruising along on a one-hit shutout until an error opened the way for Archer's bases-clearing triple that changed the complexion of the game with one swing. "I got behind in the count and got the ball up to him a little.''
Archer deposited it at the base of the fence, 380 feet away. It would have been a grand-slam home run in most parks.
"He left it up and I just hit it,'' said Archer. "We just needed to hit the ball a little better. If we had, this game could have gone either way.''
Archer had had the only hit of the game off Anderson through the first five innings when Anderson faced just one more batter than the minimum. He also walked a batter who was erased by a double play.
The trouble started when, with two outs, shortstop Derek Pfieffer let Tyler Ball's grounder slide under his glove and into the outfield. Seth Johnson walked and Ben Daniels followed with a single to load the bases and Archer then ripped an Anderson pitch to deep left-center, scoring all three runners.
"I had told Daniel Sharp to be ready to face (Stephen) Owenby and Ryan Lockhart,'' said Edwards. "I told him I wanted him to go after them.''
Sharp came in and did as was told, striking out Owenby to get out of that jam and then Lockhart to start the seventh. But an error allowed Ben Begley to reach and Kaleb Kitzmiller singled to put runners on first and second with one out. At that point, Mancuso came on and got Reid Mathews to pop out and got Ball to fly out to the base of the hill in right to end the game.
An error with the bases full and two outs in the fifth doubled Science Hill's lead from 2-0 to 4-0 and South coach Anthony Richardson said that was the big play in the game.
"He normally makes that play,'' said Richardson of his second baseman, "but he said the ball tailed away from him.
"But we battled back and had a chance. Good luck to Science Hill. If they play well Friday, they should advance.''
But Richardson isn't giving up on his team's chances to advance, even though it has to play a Farragut team that has been nationally ranked this season.
"We battled tonight and we'll battle again Friday,'' said Richardson. "We're not supposed to beat them, so we'll go down there loose and be ready to go.''
Archer (7-2, 1.40 ERA) will get the start.
"He should be fine,'' said Richardson.
"They're a great team,'' said Archer. "It will be a good challenge for us, but we'll be ready.''
Ball, who had thrown a perfect game in his last outing, was touched for back-to-back doubles down the left-field line by left-handed hitters to open the game. Lance Reed led off with a double and Cory McPherson followed with one of his own to produce the first run.
"I got a little lucky on that one (with the wind that blew it fair),'' said Reed. "I think they had shaded us to right field, expecting us to pull and we both hit it the opposite way.''
Anderson then singled to open the fourth, advanced on Andrew Sims' single and Daniel Norris' bunt single filled the bases with no outs. But Ball got Derek Pfieffer to fly out, scoring the second run, and then got Mancuso to hit into a double play to get out of the jam.
Ball pitched all six innings, allowing 11 hits and five runs, three of them earned.
"We'll have everyone available on Friday except Tyler,'' said Richardson.
For Science Hill, Reed had two doubles and scored three runs; McPherson was 2-for-4 with two RBI; and Anderson and Norris had two hits each.
"My back felt fine,'' said Anderson. "I think I just wore down a little bit.''
"I was a little worried about that,'' said Edwards, "because he hadn't pitched since April 25.''
Anderson still struck out seven batters and walked two while allowing three hits and three runs, all unearned.
Ben McKinney (10-1, 1.50 ERA) will be the starter for Science Hill on Friday with Daniel Norris ready, if needed.
"Daniel said he was ready tonight and we would have used him, if the game had gone extra innings,'' said Edwards, "but we were able to get by with the three guys we used.''
Here is Wednesday's linescore:
Science Hill 5, Sullivan South 3
Sullivan South 000 003 0 -- 3 4 1
Science Hill 100 121 x -- 5 11 2
Tyler Ball and Ben Daniels; Lucas Anderson, Daniel Sharp (6), Caleb Mancuso (7 ) and Lance Reed. WP--Anderson (6-1); LP--Ball (6-3). S--Mancuso (2).
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