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A rivalry game is supposed to bring the unexpected.
A walk-off home run by the No. 9 hitter. An overpowering pitching performance from a smallish hurler. Such have been the signature of the Anderson County-Shelby County baseball rivalry in recent years.
But no one could have foreseen what happened when Shelby ripped Anderson 16-6 in six innings to virtually clinch the top-seed in the 30th District tournament to be held later this month.
To put it mildly, the Anderson team that took the field Friday bore little resemblance to a team going for a third consecutive regional championship.
“That's what was the most disappointing, our guys never competed,” said Anderson coach L.W. Barnes. “We showed no hustle, no heart, no desire, no toughness, and basically disrespected the game of baseball and the Anderson-Shelby rivalry. “
Anderson pitching gave up seven walks and hit four batters. The Anderson defense committed six errors, allowing nine unearned runs.
“Five walks scored for Shelby,” Barnes lamented. “Two hit by pitches resulted in two RBI. Four scored that reached on errors.”
In fact, Anderson was one out from being mercy-ruled 10-0 in the fifth before Alex Sparrow singled, then came around to score on Shae Sparrow's pinch-single.
It opened a five-run fifth for the only bright spot in a game that left Anderson at 2-1 in district play and 11-8 on the year. Hunter Coffey delivered Anderson's big hit, a 3-run double. Coffey had another double, making him Anderson's only batter with a multi-hit game.
The Bearcats mustered just seven hits off the Shelby trio of Taylor Boone, who got the win, Corey Williams and Trey Bailey.
No Anderson base runner advanced past second base until Alex Sparrow did so in the fifth. By that time, it was 10-0.
“I was proud of some of our younger guys who really got in there and showed a little gumption,” Barnes said.
But after Anderson cut the lead to 10-5, Shelby responded. “We kind of lost focus,” Shelby coach Bart Roettger said. “I thought our guys did a good job of regrouping.”
Shelby reached Anderson starter Steven Watts for two runs in the first inning, another in the second and two more in the third. Two of the runs were unearned.
Watts opened the game by striking out Tyler Tipton and Brandon Roberts, but after two walks and a hit, Shelby's Nate Clifton ripped a single to left-center, scoring two runs. Clifton, hitting in the six-spot, delivered three hits, walked and drove in five runs.
“Steven Watts is young and I really wanted to see how he would respond in a big game situation. He responded with a C+ effort, but the defense behind him gave an F effort,” Barnes said.
Roettger added, “Watts has some good stuff,”he said. “I know now why they are excited about him.”
Shelby reached Jacob Russell for seven more runs, four earned, in two innings, then got to Josh Brown for four unearned runs in the sixth to end things.
“Unearned runs have plagued us all year,” Barnes said. “We have preached and preached fundamentals all year, and our three of our infielders really refuse to play the ground ball the correct way. It's ironic because we have not changed our basic philosophy on ground balls in twelve years. ... So, there will be some changes made soon, and I can guarantee our defensive play will be better for the post season.”
While it is true that the loss was a regular-season setback and tournament time is when it counts the most, Barnes had a long team meeting after the game. He said there has to be a sense of urgency on his team's part.
“If our RBI total (6) is three less than the unearned run total, we will never have a chance,” he said. “I told the kids afterward that we needed to be less concerned with themselves and more concerned with the team. We acted very selfishly. Many, not all, are more concerned with themselves and their stats, rather than the good of the team. We play a lot of 'Me' ball, and that's no way to live and it's no way to play the game. We have got to find some heart.
“I really hope this senior class begins to realize they have now three weeks left in their baseball careers, and maybe, just maybe they can find a little urgency in their approach.”
Roettger, for one, thinks Anderson will and expects to see the Bearcats again in the 30th District championship game. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “They are a much better team. Both teams are better than they showed tonight.”
E-mail John Herndon at firstname.lastname@example.org.