SMYRNA – Fans stood and applauded as the University School of Jackson baseball players left the dugout for the final time Wednesday, disappointed with a week that didn’t go as hoped but still appreciative of the season-long effort.
The defending state champs went 0-for-2 at the Division II-A state tournament in 2015, falling 8-3 to Evangelical Christian School a day after falling 4-3 to Franklin Road Academy.
“First thing I told them was I love ’em. I’m proud of them,” second-year USJ coach Jack Peel said. “But you know, winning a state championship is hard. We came in here last year and we rolled through three games. I don’t know if we made it look easy or if we thought it was going to be as easy as last year, but it’s hard. These are three quality opponents that are here besides us.”
ECS punished Bruin mistakes in the second and sixth innings with three runs each, and USJ couldn’t match that kind of offense.
Ryan Rolison had two runs batted in Wednesday, and Garrett Guymon added the other to go with his Tuesday homer. Each had three hits Wednesday.
But in two tournament games, USJ hitters in the six through nine spots of the lineup were 1-for-23 with one batter hit by a pitch.
“I didn’t anticipate that at all,” Peel said. “We didn’t play good [Tuesday] and I thought today we’d bounce back and do better, but obviously we picked the wrong time of the year to play probably our two worst games of the year.
“That’s just baseball. We’ll work hard next year to get right back here, and hopefully next year we’ll do better.”
The Eagles’ Benton Garrison hit a two-out, two-run double to left off USJ senior starter Ben Brauss in the second inning and Riley Watkins followed two batters later with an RBI single.
Rolison doubled to left in the third inning to score Brandon Hauswald, who had reached on a one-out walk.
Brauss and the USJ defense stranded three ECS runners in scoring position over the next two innings before ECS went up 4-1 in the fifth. USJ added another run in the bottom of the fifth when Guymon doubled to score Logan Carey. Peel sent the trail runner, too, but he was thrown out on a close play at the plate to end the inning.
Peel substituted freshman Eli Brauss after two runners reached against Ben in the sixth, but Sadler Goodwin then homered to left center for a 7-2 lead. Peel said the only thing he would do differently is not call the curveball Goodwin hit out.
In the seventh, Carey made a catch and great throw from centerfield for a double play at third base, but the lead runner scored before the out was made for an 8-2 lead.
Brauss singled and Hauswald walked to open the bottom of the seventh. After one out, Rolison singled to score Brauss. ECS then turned a double play to end the game.
“If there’s one I think in these last two days that we didn’t do a good job of, it’s staying in the moment,” Peel said. “And we let the negative plays in the game kind of overtake what we were trying to do.”
Ben Brauss, outfielder Cameron Tinker and pitcher William Butler all appeared in Wednesday’s game, the last of their high school careers. Peel said he appreciated their hard work.
“Those three guys are the epitome of what our program’s about,” Peel said. “They would do anything for anybody. They play out of the love in their heart for their teammates.”
Craig Thomas, 425-9634