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The sophomore’s walk-off RBI single in the seventh lifted the Eagles to their first state semifinal trip.
Courtesy Tina Quesenberry
Auburn’s Tanner DeHart lashes a base hit in the Eagles’ 3-2 win over J.I. Burton on Tuesday.
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
PULASKI — Too torn up to look, Gabe Spencer covered his eyes.
Major mistake. The Auburn High School pitcher missed the biggest hit in Eagles history.
With two out and none on, Auburn then staged a bottom of the seventh rally that ended with Brian Gresty’s walk-off run scoring single in a 3-2 victory over J.I. Burton in the state Group A Division 1 quarterfinals Tuesday at Calfee Park.
Fired up to the point of distraction, Auburn coach Skip Thompson didn’t even know who his guys were playing next.
“I haven’t looked; don’t even care,” he said. “At this point, if we don’t win today, it doesn’t matter. I’ve got two days to worry about who we’re going to play on Friday.”
The Eagles (17-6) won their fourth in a row and for the eighth time in nine games to advance to their first state semifinal at 10 a.m. Friday at Kiwanis Field in Salem against the winner of the William Campbell-Surry County game.
Sounds like an early start for high school boys in their first full week of summer vacation, but Thompson already had that covered.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “That’s when we’re going to be practicing the next two days. We still have baseball to play. They can sleep next week.”
Nobody snoozed through this one, a tense and well-played pitchers’ duel between Spencer and Burton counterpart Adrian Mullins, a senior left-hander. It was a wrenching game to lose.
“Our last four losses have been one-run losses,” Raiders coach Jimbo Adams said. “They’re tough on kids.”
The Region D runner-up finished 12-13. Burton had staged its own comeback the last two innings with leadoff triples by Matthew Branham in the sixth and Malik Miles in the seventh. Both scored to erase a 2-0 deficit. Miles, a speedy Carson-Newman football recruit, threatened to turn his three bagger into an inside the park home run when the baseball rolled all the way to the fence in right center. The retrieve was swift and the throw to the cutoff man accurate to hold Miles at third.
“I knew the defense had my back,” said Spencer, a junior right-hander who scattered nine hits. “They’ve been there for me all year. I knew I had them behind me. All I had to do was pitch strikes.”
After Miles’ triple, Spencer hit the next batter, Kevin Van Ness. Will Cassell’s sacrifice fly plated the tying run. Liners to shortstop and right field ended the threat.
It didn’t look too promising for Auburn’s Cody Akers after the first two batters of the seventh flied out. But Akers singled to right and was followed by Allen Huff, who was walked by the tiring Mullins. Next up was seventh-place batter Gresty, a sophomore who doesn’t appear to excite easily.
“He’d been hitting fifth for us most of the year,” Thompson said. “But he’d really been struggling toward the end of the season, popping up a lot of balls, getting out in front, having a lot of trouble hitting with two strikes, not making adjustments. Today, he came in here believing he could make something happen.”
Gresty wasn’t the only one.
“As soon as he came up to the batters circle I just had that feeling that he was going to get that winning hit,” said Spencer, whose two out two run double in the fourth snapped the scoreless tie.
Still, Spencer just couldn’t bear to watch.
Gresty may have been the calmest individual in the whole park. Partly because he successfully got to the bottom of his hitting problems.
“Thinking too much,” he said. “So I got in the cage, concentrated, and was then confident to come up to the plate and hit. I cleared my head and tried to get my pitch.”
That was a 2-1 fastball, belt-high. Gresty lashed it into left field and Akers raced in from second to an uproarious scene at the plate. You couldn’t blame them.
You only get to earn the school’s first trip to the state baseball semis once.
J.I. Burton 000 001 0 — 2 9 1
Auburn 000 200 1 — 3 10 1
Mullins and Adams. Spencer and Bower. W—Spencer. L –Mullins.
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