By Kedrick Storey/Southern Sentinel
RIPLEY – The Mooreville Troopers scored all nine of their runs with two outs – including three to break a 6-6 tie in the top of the seventh inning – to beat Ripley 9-6 on Saturday.
The win secured the Troopers (22-11) their first North championship since 2008 and their first under coach Jamie Russell.
“We battled,” said Russell, who admitted he was sick all week at thought of playing Ripley, where he coached for three previous seasons. “Early on, we weren’t getting those hits with two outs but in the playoffs we started doing it and that’s been the difference.”
The Troopers got going in the second inning, when Gary Johnson smacked a three-run home run to deep right off Ripley starter Ben Hellums. They added a run in the fourth on a two-out single by designated hitter Cole Benefield and another in the fifth on a two-out single by Channing Nanney for an early 5-0 lead.
Ripley (20-11), which was held scoreless by Mooreville pitchers for 11 consecutive innings, broke through in the bottom of the fifth and plated three runs on four hits off starter Drew Wheeler.
Mooreville added a run in the top of sixth when Hellums hit Matthew Pannell with the bases loaded, forcing in a run to make it 6-3. However, the Ripley rally that began in the fifth continued in the sixth, as two Mooreville fielding errors and a bloop single by Caleb Reno plated three runs to tie the game at 6.
“I’m disappointed, but we fought back and got right back in it,” said Ripley coach Joel Gafford, who led the Tigers to their first state semifinal appearance since 2001. “Things just didn’t work out, but nobody expected us to be here at all. Hard work got us this far and I’m proud of the kids.”
A walk, a single and a Ripley fielding error loaded the bases for Mooreville in the top of the seventh before a sac fly by Austin Knox and a 2-out single for Benefield added their final runs.