Cherokees hold off Redskins

Greenback School’s Tyler Cullen waits on a pitch Monday in the Cherokees’ 4-1 win against the Loudon High School Redskins.

The Greenback School Cherokees and the Loudon High School Redskins battled Monday night on Pappy Hammontree Field in Greenback, but a few timely hits lifted the Cherokees to a 4-1 win.

“It’s a good win because they’re a good baseball team,” Wes Caldwell, Greenback head baseball coach, said. “They’re going to go a long way in the postseason and it says that baseball’s good in the county. I think we had a few timely hits. That was a tight one and kind of a weird ball game. We made a lot of good pitches when we had to. I thought they pitched it real good tonight, too.”

The Cherokees got on the board in the first inning when Wyatt Rutgerson stole home on an error.

Bryce Hanley extended the lead to 3-0 two innings later for the Cherokees when he connected on a pitch for a two-run home run over the centerfield wall.

“We had one out with a runner on third, so I’m all thinking is just trying to get the runner across with a deep fly ball,” Hanley said. “They had the infield up, so a ground ball to the right side was out of the equation, so I just wanted to get a deep fly ball. He gave me a good pitch and only down 0-1, you can still do some damage with it. I stayed through it pretty good and drove it to center.”

Caldwell believes Hanley’s home run was the most pivotal point of the game.

“I mean, it was big to go from a 1-0 game to a 3-0 game,” Caldwell said. “Obviously, it gave our pitching and our defense a little bit of breathing room right there. The happiest thing that I feel about it is that he has been working, staying through the ball a little bit longer and he was able to do that. Just seeing him putting good swings on it and getting rewarded for that makes you feel good.”

The Cherokees scored their fourth and final run in the bottom of the fourth inning when Cole Riddle singled on a hard ground ball to drive in Josh Edwards.

Loudon managed to score a late run in the top of the seventh when Jasper Cooley advanced home on an error, but it was too little, too late as the Cherokees completed a season sweep of the Redskins.

“Whenever you sweep a good quality opponent, it’s a good win,” Hanley said. “They’re going to come out and do the little things right. You just go out and compete and win those two games so close like we did. Those are two good wins for us.”

Three Cherokees commanded the mound Monday — Hanley, Reese Plemons and Cole Riddle.

“I thought they all did a good job,” Caldwell said. “They all threw a lot of strikes and didn’t walk people. We were trying to keep their pitch counts down because we’ve got big stuff coming up Friday and Saturday, so we tried to keep them all at 40 pitches. Bryce ended up throwing up around 48, while Cole threw right on 40 and Reese threw a little less. We said, ‘Hey, let’s fill up the zone and let our defense make plays.’ We were able to be pitch-efficient. I think, overall, we probably threw 120 pitches in the game. Loudon is really scrappy and had some really good at-bats.”

Loudon head baseball coach Jason Lambert credited Greenback as one of the best teams they have played.

“I think they’re probably, top to bottom, the best team we’ve faced all year long,” he said. “I think that we have the pitching to beat them, but we’ll never be able to beat them with our bats. This is something that we need to improve on as a whole, top to bottom.

“We’ve got a couple of deadly areas within our lineup where I feel like we could challenge a pitcher and a defense, but once we get through one or two of our real threats on offense, most teams just kind of mow down the rest of our lineup,” he added. “They’re trying to find what they need to hone in on to go deep this year, but right now, I’m not very happy with our offense and we’re not going to be able to go very far with the kind offensive production we’ve got.”

Hickman led the Redskins with two runs and has stepped up as the team’s top batter, which Lambert would like to build around.

“Nathan is a great asset to our program,” Lambert said. “He’s a fantastic pitcher, a pretty good little shortstop and he’s a great hitter. We’re trying to build some more offensive bats around his ability to hit extra-base hits and I feel like Austyn Myers does a great job leading off to create some on-base presence for Nathan. After that, that’s sort of where we’re falling off dramatically. A good team’s going to be able to bat competitively one through six, but right now, I don’t feel like we’ve got a lot of compete after our two-hole. We’re watching too many strikes and the game rewards aggressiveness.”

The Cherokees have won seven straight and look to continue that streak into the weekend when they face a gauntlet of talented teams in the Scott Dean Memorial Tournament at Christian Academy of Knoxville and Farragut High School.

Caldwell believes his team will be up for the challenge.

“We’re just trying to be the same every day,” he said. “Baseball’s got so many peaks and valleys, so it will humble you in a hurry. We’re not trying to let wins change us and we’re not trying to let adversity change us. We’re trying to find that even keel where we play best. That’s going to be big going into this weekend. We were challenged tonight and we were challenged Friday night against Pigeon Forge. We’re going to get challenged all weekend.”