With runners stranded on first and second, a full count and the scored tied 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning Friday night, Lenoir City High School senior Braden Ferrell knew it was his time make the biggest play of his four years as a Panther in one of the biggest games of the season.
Ferrell connected on the next pitch with a hard single to center field to drive in Jordan Carroll for the game-winning run to put the Panthers up 4-3 and complete the first season sweep over the Loudon High School Redskins in 17 years.
“I had a pretty good at-bat and I knew (Jaxon Walker) was going to throw me a pretty good fastball, and I saw it go through and knew I hit it hard right off the bat,” Ferrell said. “I got excited but I had to look to make sure it was going to score before we went crazy I guess, but yeah it felt good. I just pieced it up and was on time, so I just helped the team and that’s what I was trying to do.”
The Panthers jumped out to a 2-0 lead after the first two innings before Loudon got on the board in the top of the fifth to cut the score to 2-1. Lenoir City responded in the following inning with another run after Carroll scored on a Ferrell fielder’s choice.
The Redskins answered in the top of the sixth when freshman Jaxon Walker blasted a two-run home run to tie the score at 3-3, forcing LCHS head baseball coach Aaron Simmons to send senior Zach Lee in for relief.
“Wyatt (Collins) threw well and didn’t have all his best stuff tonight, but he fought through it and kept us in the ballgame,” Simmons said. “Zach came in and did an amazing job to keep us in the game. The defense was there tonight and Loudon played an amazing ball game and it was just an amazing atmosphere to be a part of. My message was, ‘Do me a favor and don’t shake 3-2.’ Wyatt knew as soon as he threw that pitch and I went and spoke to him, and he found a way to get that back there at the end. He learned from it, and that’s the beauty of baseball.”
Lee pitched the final inning and gave up just one hit and two strikeouts to close out the game.
“I knew Loudon would have the momentum going in there, and I just tried to shut it down at that point,” Lee said. “It was bases loaded with nobody out and he gets lucky and gets out of that, and I’m thinking, ‘I know the middle of the order’s coming up, and I know one of the Meade brothers is coming up, and I know what he’s going to do so if he hits. I can get through the bottom of the order and I can work through that’.”
The former two-year junior varsity athlete has contributed throughout the season at multiple positions.
“You just don’t even know, being a JV guy my freshman and sophomore year and not knowing if I was going to be in the starting rotation my junior year and coming out and kind of being one of the relievers that coach relies on, it’s just special,” Lee said. “It’s sweet because when we got here as freshmen, our heads were looking to our big non-district game and one of the biggest rivalry games in the state, which is Loudon. I’m so excited.”
Despite dropping five consecutive games, including three in District 4-3A, the LCHS coaching staff was seeking a bounce-back win.
Simmons hopes the win boosts team confidence heading into the final week of the season.
“Loudon is an amazing ball team and we knew coming out that we couldn’t let up in any aspect in that game,” he said. “That’s what’s fun about rivalries, and the Loudon-Lenoir City rivalry has a longtime effect on this community. To come away and get two from them for the first time in a long time, that’s huge for the kids. We’ve had some downfalls and some injuries the last few weeks, but we’re starting to come back and compete. All we’ve asked from them is seven hard innings of baseball and you’re going to get your chance, and tonight Braden Ferrell gets his chance and comes through for us.”
The Panthers followed up Monday with a 12-4 win over the William Blount High School Governors to improve to 13-11 overall and 3-9 in District 4-3A.
Lenoir City faces a final district opponent at 6:30 p.m. today at Hardin Valley Academy. The Panthers will host Sweetwater and Cleveland at 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday, respectively, to conclude the regular season.