By Chris Yow
THOMPSONS STATION — Just two outs away from a second consecutive trip to the Class AAA state baseball tournament, the proverbial wheels fell off the bus for Independence.
Four Indy pitchers combined to give up five runs on four hits, including a 3-run home run by Vanderbilt signee Kyle Magrans, while three Eagles’ errors also helped propel Clarksville to its first state tournament berth since 2010 with a 7-5 win on the road Friday.
Heading into the final inning, neither team had committed a single error, and Indy hurlers Will Tobin and Jacob Almon had been on a roll. Eagles’ coach Mike McLaury was confident.
“We played great defense up to that point,” he said. “We felt confident in Jacob and his fastball, and we just didn’t get the last two outs in time.”
Clarksville’s Walker Smith flied out to right, but Almon hit 9-hole hitter Grayson Proctor. The top of the lineup had been struggling all afternoon, with no hits among the first three hitters. Nathan Barksdale broke that streak with a single to leave runners at the corners.
A pickoff attempt at first base was mishandled, which allowed a run to score before speedster Garrison Goins was walked by Cooper Hargrove — who replaced Almon with a 2-0 count on Goins — bringing up Magrans. A 2-2 pitch from Hargrove found its way over the left-field fence and the Wildcats were energized.
McLaury said he had no regrets in pulling his ace pitcher in the sixth in favor of Almon, and further felt no remorse in bringing in Hargrove.
Tobin went five and two-thirds for the Eagles, giving up just two runs on six hits. In the sixth, Almon came into the game and quickly retired Gavin Baxter with a ground ball.
“It was a tough game; they really battled (Tobin),” McLaury said. “He threw 84 tough pitches. He started getting the ball up, and we had Almon and Cooper Hargrove, who’s been 1-A for us all season.
“We were in good shape, we just didn’t get the third out.”
Indy’s offense came on strong in the fourth inning while trailing 1-0. Cooper Hargrove’s 2-RBI single gave the Eagles a lead. In the fifth, Drew Blalock singled, and his courtesy runner Peyton Kirton stole second base before moving to third on a passed ball. Grant Morgan was then walked — or so he thought. The home plate umpire recalled Morgan to the box, informing him there were only three balls according to his count.
Morgan promptly doubled on the next pitch, scoring Kirton to give Indy an extra run of breathing room. That fifth-inning double was the first extra-base hit of the day.
Indy added another pair of runs in the sixth on a pair of RBI singles from Jack Baughman and Aiden Justice, which led the Eagles to the seventh with a 5-2 lead.
The Eagles banged out 12 hits in the game. Hargrove led the way with a 3-for-4 afternoon and the two RBIs. Logan Molnar and Morgan each tallied a pair of hits, while only one Eagle in the lineup failed to record at least one base hit.
McLaury was pleased with the offensive performance near the end of the game, but obviously knows his defense and pitching in the seventh was capable of better.
“We had a couple of errors and we had a hit batter, a walk, and that’s how big innings happen,” he said. “During this stretch we’ve stayed away from that. To me, it doesn’t matter how they get on base, that’s an opportunity we let by to get an out.
“We just have to get the last two outs next year.”
Photos by Chris Yow / SM-Tn Sports