By Maurice Patton
MT. PLEASANT – It’s a good thing Gaven Whitehead’s last pitch was his last pitch.
Otherwise, it would have been his last pitch.
With his 120th pitch of Monday’s game, the most he could throw under Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association rules, the Mt. Pleasant junior got a called strikeout of Santa Fe’s Macon Adkison to complete the host Tigers’ 5-0 District 10-A win.
Had he not retired Adkison on that seventh-inning two-out pitch, first-year coach Kennedy Mathis would have been forced to relieve Whitehead in the middle of a count, with runners at first base and second base.
“I thought he was going to pull me once I got closer to my pitch limit,” Whitehead said after limiting the Wildcats – previously unbeaten in league play – to three hits while striking out 16 en route to the victory.
Mathis had no such intention, unless he had no alternative.
With Whitehead at 116 pitches before Adkison stepped into the batter’s box, Mathis spoke with both umpires to gain clarity on the pitch count rule and was informed that if pitch No. 120 was thrown before the at-bat was completed, he’d have to make a move.
“I think he knew he was getting close, but I wasn’t going to pull him until I had to,” Mathis said.
After allowing a hit to Colton Steward to lead off the game, Whitehead retired 19 straight hitters – working into the seventh inning before Carter Seltz and Peyton Wilhelm each singled to force the late dramatics.
“He changed speeds well, and we chased out of the (strike) zone a bunch, which we hadn’t all year,” Santa Fe coach Rip Baxter said.
With two on and one out, Whitehead got a strikeout of Logan Wilkins before ending the game with Adkison’s strikeout on a 1-2 pitch.
“From the first day in the fall, you could tell he had something in him,” Mathis said. “We’ve gotten him out of the ‘throwing’ mode and into the ‘pitching’ mode. He’d shown flashes, but he put everything over the plate and said ‘you’ve got to hit it’.
“He threw a fastball, a curveball and a changeup. We told him he had to have his curve and his change against this team – the curve against the righthanders and the change against the lefthanders. He threw all three.”
While Whitehead handled the pitching duties from start to finish, Mt. Pleasant (7-12, 4-3) staked him to an early lead as Ben Newland led off the bottom of the first with a base hit, stole second, then moved up on a Josh Martin wild pitch and scored on another.
That same recipe led to a third-inning run as Newland singled, advanced on a wild pitched, went to third on a Ryan Clark sacrifice bunt and scored on a wild pitch. The Tigers extended that lead as Codell Gilliam reached on a two-out error and scored on Kevin Reed’s triple.
“Our philosophy is, I’d rather you get thrown out being aggressive than not move up being passive,” Mathis said. “When we can take a base, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Mt. Pleasant took advantage of a Connor Hay one-out base hit and two more errors by Santa Fe (12-5-1, 4-1) for a couple of fourth-inning runs.
“I told them this was the best contact-hitting team in the district,” Baxter said of the Tigers. “They put the ball in play. You’ve got to make plays.
“They’re well coached. Kennedy does a good job with them.”
Newland and Hay each had two hits for Mt. Pleasant, with Whitehead adding a single.
“We’ve got to get these type wins,” Mathis said. “We hit well. We didn’t put up 20 (runs), but five against a team like that is pretty good.
“I think we’re coming out of the growing pains. We’re finding different ways to win – sometimes hitting, sometimes defense, sometimes pitching. We put it all together here against a very good team.”
The two teams play Tuesday at Santa Fe. Game time is 6 p.m.
Mt. Pleasant 5, Santa Fe 0
SF 000 000 0 – 0 3 3
MP 102 200 x – 5 6 0
Josh Martin, Peyton Wilhelm (6) and Wilhelm, Colton Steward (6). Gaven Whitehead and Kevin Reed. W: Whitehead. L: Martin.