Red Bank baseball's impossible dream has been significantly downgraded.
The Lions, who ended the season on a 14-game losing streak, are now a single step from the Class AA state baseball tournament following an impressive, 8-7 comeback win over District 5-AA champion Sequoyah.
While most other state contenders will play sectional games on Friday, they won't play again until Saturday when they'll host Livingston Academy at 6 p.m.
"This is the toughest bunch of jokers I've ever been around," Lions assistant coach Brandon Crews said. "I don't know any team in the state that had a 14-game losing streak during the year, much less headed into the postseason. I don't know what our record is. All I know is that we've won the district and the [3-AA] region and we're going to play for a state berth."
In the stretch that brought them the two titles (their third straight district championship), the Lions have won six of seven games.
And they've done it the hard way, coming from behind in all of the victories.
"We've been down as much as 7-1. We were down 5-1 tonight. Regardless of the scores, the guys have battled and kept coming back," Crews said.
They almost put it away in the bottom of the seventh when Hagen Wilkey lined a one-out triple to right. He was unable to advance, however, on two grounders to short.
After Wilkey worked out of a two-on jam by striking out the side, Hunter Romans sent a blistering single sizzling past the pitcher and then stole second. He was breaking for third on D.J. Hale's sacrifice attempt and then came around to score the winner on a throwing error from Sequoyah pitcher Garrett Dalton to first.
"I have never scored a bigger run," the sophomore said. "I was thinking about getting to third and slid in and Coach was telling me to get up. I knew there wasn't going to be a play at the plate by the way the catcher was acting."
He described the Lions' postseason streak succinctly.
"It's crazy. We have all been talking about a new mindset. It was win or go home."
Nobody was ready to go home."
And while no one would describe this as anything but a team effort, it was Wilkey again who stepped up. In addition to his sterling relief performance after a 70-pitch relief showing on Tuesday, he also had a two-run homer to go with the triple. The junior entered the playoffs without a win and now has four victories and a save.
"I scared myself there in the top of the eighth, and I just thought to myself I have got to buckle down and throw strikes," he said.
"He has been anything and everything at the plate and on the mound," Crews said. "He's hot right now. We'll ride him till he quits and I don't see that happening any time soon."
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...