Following three straight losses by a combined score of 23-6, the Loudon High School Redskins (15-8, 8-1 District 5-2A) got back into the win column Monday after defeating the McMinn Central High School Chargers 11-0.
The Redskins started hot by scoring five runs in the first and second innings to jump out 10-0. Senior Trey Willis returned to the mound for the first time in over a month, throwing 19 strikes and five strikeouts in 31 pitches.
“It felt good to be back there because it’s been a while,” Willis said. “At the beginning I was having trouble just letting my shoulder do what it needs to do. I was kind of holding back and that’s why I kind of walked that one guy, but after I just let it go if it’s not hurting. I think we can go as far as we want and we have the talent.”
Head coach Jason Lambert relieved Willis in the third inning with senior outfielder McKenzie Lunsford, who pitched the third and fourth innings. Senior catcher Rylan Watson switched out in the fifth to relieve Lunsford in a move to honor the three on senior night.
All three combined for a no-hitter and nine strikeouts.
“It was exciting to see the guys play and do their thing, and from the beginning of the day I had the intention to throw all three of them,” Lambert said. “McKenzie typically has not been in our pitching rotation or our bullpen, but he’s expressed some interest in throwing. His throwing has been more durable this year than it has been in the past. It’s the same for Rylan as well, and he’s actually got four pitches. The thing is he’s important for us behind the plate, so he’s going to have to catch predominantly for us and that’s one of the reasons he hasn’t pitched for us is we need him to be a staple behind the plate for us.”
Watson and Lunsford were excited for the rare opportunity to get on the mound and help deliver a critical district win.
The move was special for Lunsford after receiving a ball to the face and missing Friday’s 4-3 loss to the Lenoir City High School Panthers.
“The atmosphere was great, and Trey threw his butt off for the first time in a month,” Watson said. “I just tried to live up to their expectations. It was a little weird being on the other side.”
“It’s been a while,” Lunsford added. “It so much easier to throw from center field because I just let go and throw from soul from out there, and I have to aim when I’m on the mound. They understood I was going to be a little jumpy in the blocks because I took one to the face Friday.”
Although the Redskins have clinched the regular season District 5-2A championship and No. 1 seed for the tournament, the next two weeks are important.
Loudon will host the Roane County High School Kingston Yellow Jackets at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, followed by a rematch at 7 p.m. Friday at home against the McMinn County High School Cherokees.
“It’s all about putting us in a position where we can be healthy, strong and then we’ve got our bullpen and rotation setup to where we can be the most efficient and effective at the end of next week,” Lambert said. “We’re just going to be utilizing this week and the start of next week to make sure we get guys the work they need on the mound. We can hopefully get some guys dialed in offensively, and our defense has been playing well going on now for two or three weeks and haven’t really had any bad defensive days. ... We’ve got to come out here and just rely on our training and our effort that we’ve put forth all year.”