Matt Buckner knows that baseball can sometimes be a cruel game. On Friday night, May 19, Farragut’s longtime head coach and his Admirals discovered just what a spiteful mistress the game can be.
Farragut had its string of Class AAA State Tournament appearances snapped when it dropped a 6-2 nine-inning decision to Jefferson County in a Section 1-AAA game before a packed house at John Heatherly Field/The Ballpark at Farragut.
The Admirals (33-10) won’t be on the grand stage for the first time since 2007.
“I hate this for my guys,” Buckner, FHS head coach since 2010, said while holding back tears. “I love these guys and I love my seniors and I wanted to see them go back [to state tournament].
“You invest so much and you work so hard but the game doesn’t care. The game is cruel and brutal sometimes.”
Farragut never led in the contest and had difficulty solving Patriots ace Matt Bradley, who took the mound battling strep throat and flu-like symptoms. He also had a 102-degree fever.
But Bradley kept the Admirals at bay. FHS left the bases loaded in the bottom of the second inning as Bradley wiggled out of trouble. He went seven innings before giving way to reliever Tyler Shaver.
Shaver also would extinguish a Farragut threat, this one in the bottom of the eighth with a trip to Murfreesboro 90 feet away. The Admirals had the bases loaded with only one out.
With the game locked in a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the first extra frame, senior second baseman Justen Freeman singled with one-out before taking second on a wild pitch. Shaver then intentionally walked Jake Hagenow before Parker Noland drew a free pass to load the bases.
But Shaver would slam the door on Farragut when he recorded back-to-back strikeouts.
The Patriots (25-9) plated four runs in the top of the ninth to win the game and clinch its first trip to a baseball state tournament in school history.
Trailing 2-0 late, the Admirals scored twice in the sixth when Freeman hit a two-run homer after Carson Wright singled.
“We had our backs against the wall all night and nothing was going right for us,” Freeman said. “Coach just told me to relax and get us back in the game before I hit the home run. We got back in, but at the end of the day, we just couldn’t get it done.”
Jefferson County took a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth on an RBI single by Jacob Rogers, who also drove in the eventual game-winning run with a double in the ninth. The Patriots went up 2-0 when Trevor Whitley tripled and later scored on a throwing error.
Jefferson County head coach Zach Reese said that his team came together at the right time.
“I think this group expected to come down here and win,” said Reece, the Patriots second-year head coach. “This is only the third time that we’ve been to sub-state but these kids have heart.
“That team over there has a more talented lineup than we have. But our guys played together and this is the best baseball team to walk through the halls at our school. If we’d come down here and lost to a team like Farragut, it would’ve been an accomplishment. But it’s great to come and win.”
While the Pats were jubilant, the Ads were deeply saddened as Buckner bid farewell to his 2017 squad for the final times.
“We’ve been to the state tournament a lot and I know that nobody is going to feel sorry for us,” Buckner said. “And I don’t want anybody to feel sorry for us because we’ve been there a lot.
“One game doesn’t define your team. One game doesn’t define your season and one game doesn’t define your character. This team carried on the Farragut tradition and they are Farragut baseball the way that it’s supposed to be.”
when Jonathan Royster reached on an error. Commencement