MURFREESBORO – Grace Christian Academy proved they are no fluke Wednesday in a rematch against state tournament veteran Loretto at Middle Tennessee Christian School. The Lions upset the defending Class A state baseball runner-up on Tuesday in the first round and then eliminated the 2017 champs Wednesday night with a 7-2 victory.
GCA bounced back from an early 4-3 loss Wednesday against Trinity Christian Academy. The win over Loretto gives the Lions another shot against TCA at 2 p.m. at MTCS, but GCA will have to win twice to reach the state championship Friday for the first time.
“We’ve still got some work to do, but I was just proud of the way the guys bounced back,” GCA coach Brad Myers said.
The Lions were all too familiar with the Mustangs, whose roster included Mr. Baseball recipient Blade Tidwell, but this time it was do-or-die and GCA didn't let up.
“Tidwell is good," Myers said. "He hasn’t lost a game all year and our team just battled and was able to get two over on him.”
The Lions kicked off the scoring in the first after loading the bases. Baylor Jones hit a pop up to drive Blake Barton home for the game’s first run. This score prompted a quick pitching change for the Mustangs and they sent the reigning Mr. Baseball himself to the mound.
Designated hitter Luke Gill swung for the fences and netted a double on his first at bat as GCA string together a few runs in the second. Gill stole third and scored on a double from Grant Solomon to make it 2-0 Lions. With two outs and a strike on the board, Baylor Jones slammed the ball between first and second for a single and sent Blake Barton and courtesy runner Cooper Fowler home to double the Lions’ score at 4-0.
“I wanted to get that first run to set the tone for the rest of the game and get everyone excited,” said Fowler. “It helps us build that confidence that has carried us throughout the tournament.”
In the next three innings neither team gained any traction, with each batter being retired in order. In the sixth, the Lions came out roaring with another three-run inning to seal Loretto’s fate.
After being hit by a ball, left fielder Austin Kasick completed his lap around the diamond by stealing home on a first baseman’s error to make it 5-0 GCA. The Lions stacked the bases again and sent Fowler to pinch run.
He notched his second run of the game with Carson Maloney running in his shadow for the Lions last score of the game that made it 7-0.
Loretto showed signs of life in the bottom of the sixth when Blake Birdsong was sent home on a pop-up single from Jason Sharpton. The Mustangs found home plate one last time in the seventh. Despite the score, GCA wasn’t out of the woods yet and with no outs and the bases loaded, the Mustangs threatened late. Shortstop Kitch Cash made a display of athleticism when he tagged out Tyler Cullen on his way to third for the first out and Loretto batted into a double play to put the Mustangs away for good and punch the Lions’ ticket to the semifinals.
Solomon shifted over from second base and made his first start as pitcher for the Lions. He threw four strikeouts and lead GCA to shut out the Mustangs in the first five innings in his debut.
“I’ll tell you what, Grant is the real story,” said Myers. “He makes the effort and threw strikes, that’s all I can really ask of him.”
Solomon scattered six hits with three Ks, a walk and one earned. Tidwell allowed six hits with six earned to go with five strikeouts and four walks in 6 and 1/3 innings for Loretto.
“It felt awesome being out there and being able to compete,” Solomon said. “I’m blessed that my teammates trusted me, and we were able to go out there and lock it down.”
MURFREESBORO – Summit plated four runs in the top of the seventh to pull away for a 7-3 win …
GCA battles Trinity Christian for the second time at 2 p.m. at MTCS. If the Lions win, they will meet again at 4:30 p.m. with the winner of that contest headed to Friday’s state final at Middle Tennessee State University.
“We’re going to bring it to ‘em,” said Fowler.
Summertown plays Greenback in the other Class A semifinal contest Thursday. Greenback faces the same scenario as GCA needing two wins.
Trinity Christian Academy 4, Grace Christian Academy 3, Class A Second Round
Solomon singled to center just before Carson Ford launched a 2-2 pitch straight over the right field fence to give GCA a 2-0 in the top of the first. That lead held until the bottom of the fourth when Lane Forsythe launched a solo shot to dead center. Forsythe then tied the game in the fifth when he nailed a double that scored Needham Goodwin.
That run almost didn’t happen, as Goodwin was caught in a double play, but the umpire at second called him safe saying the GCA short stop was off the bag at second in a controversial play.
GCA retook the lead in the top of the sixth when Fowler, courtesy running following pitcher Baylor Jones’ single, scored on an error to give the Lions the lead back at 3-2.
Trinity answered in the bottom of the sixth when freshman Harrison Freemen launched one over the right field fence, giving Trinity back a one-run lead. GCA was unable to answer.
Joe Williams contributed to this report.