It’s rare a prep sports fan will witness what transpired Thursday night in the District 1-7A Championship between Tate and Pace.
The Aggies and Patriots battled for seven innings (scoreless for six), as both teams frequently made highlight plays to keep runs from crossing the plate.
Before Tate ignited in the seventh for three runs and ultimately a 3-1 win, the Patriots ended multiple innings with double plays and several full extension diving catches in the outfield.
“This was the best game I can remember being in,” Tate coach Greg Blackmon said. “From the great plays, clutch defense, clutch pitching and clutch hitting … it was just awesome.”
But it wasn’t only Pace’s defense that shined.
After Pace pitcher Connor Howton got out of a sticky scenario (runners at first and third, one out) in the top of the sixth, Tate responded to the same scenario in the bottom, ending the inning with a 6-4-3 double play.
Fittingly so, the final out of the game was produced after Branden Fryman (Tate shortstop) scooped a ground ball and fired it to first.
“This game was No. 1 for sure,” Tate’s Madison Lockman said, referring to where Thursday’s game ranks in his all-time favorites. “We were going back and forth with Pace all game. (Tate and Pace) are just two incredibly well-coached teams. We battled, but we wanted it more so we got it. I prepared all day for this. I didn’t really talk to anyone at school all day.”
The Aggies used three pitchers in the win, as Madison Lockman held the Patriots to two hits through six innings.
Michael Sherrill provided relief but it was Trace Penton who was on the mound for the final outs.
“Definitely the best baseball game I’ve been in,” Penton said. “With the game at a neutral site (Pine Forest) and the stands were packed – it was crazy.”
Penton certainly left his impact with the bat in his hand as well, driving in the first run of the game in the top of the seventh with no outs.
Ironically, at the season’s start Penton and Blackom weren’t sure that the Tate senior would even be able to swing a bat this season.
“I injured my left (non-throwing hand) elbow during the Choctaw football game,” Penton said. “I had surgery right at the start of the baseball season. I had my elbow scoped and had bone chips taken out. I didn’t think I would be able to hit … but my elbow is working now, so that’s good.”
Gleaming with pride in his four-year athlete, Blackmon took a moment to realize just how hard Penton battled to recover from injury this year.
“We had no idea what Trace would be capable of this year,” Blackmon said. “But (in Thursday’s district championship) Penton closed and he got the game-winning hit. That’s like a Cinderella story or some kind of Disney movie. The kid just persevered.”
•Who: Pace at Milton; Navarre at Tate
•What: Region 1-7A quarterfinals
•When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 27