COLUMBIA, Tenn. — In just six seasons as head coach at Walters State, Dave Shelton has expanded on the winning tradition and kept it going strong.
Shelton added a nice milestone to his young head coaching career Wednesday night at the TCCAA/NJCAA Region VII Baseball Tournament at Columbia State's Dave Hall Field, as his fourth-ranked and top-seeded Senators hammered seventh-seeded Jackson State, 7-2, to give Shelton his 300th career win but more importantly, it moved Walters State into the championship game of the tournament.
The Senators scored early and often, taking the lead just three batters into the game and never looking back, as Shelton's milestone came in sparkling fashion thanks to a gem of an outing on the hill from Corey Stone. The left-hander held the Green Jays hitless through 7 1/3 innings and allowed his teammates to pick apart the Jackson State pitchers in the victory.
With the win, Walters State is now 49-9 on the year, and it has won 12 straight games against the Green Jays, including a pair of wins earlier this season. The Senators are now 24-4 in their last 28 games, and they will play for the TCCAA/NJCAA Region VII title Thursday at 4 p.m. against either fourth-seeded Chattanooga State, sixth-seeded Dyersburg State or seventh-seeded Jackson State.
Chattanooga State and Dyersburg State were scheduled to play at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday night, but due to the length of the first three games, they did not meet in their elimination game until more than three hours after the original start time. The winner of that game faces the Green Jays at 1 p.m. Thursday, with the winner then facing WSCC in the championship game.
Chattanooga State and Dyersburg State advanced to the last four teams in the tournament by winning their elimination games on Wednesday, as the Tigers (33-14) defeated second-seeded Motlow State (37-16) in the opener, 13-9, while the Eagles (35-19) topped fifth-seeded Columbia State (22-27) in the second game, 12-9.
The loss Wednesday night dropped the Green Jays to 32-21 on the year, and it ended their five-game winning streak.
After Stone worked around a leadoff walk and two passed balls to strand a runner at third in the top of the first inning, the Senators gave him all the support he would need in the home half of the frame. Jerry Hammons ripped a one-out single and scored on a long two-run blast from Bryce Hodge, his 12th dinger of the campaign, to make it a 2-0 lead.
Stone notched six strikeouts over the next four innings and kept the Green Jays hitless before the Senators finally roughed up Nathan Boyle and knocked him out of the game in the home half of the fifth. Boyle kept WSCC off the board for three innings after Hodge's blast, but Hammons singled to lead off the frame, Hodge reached on an error and Brayden Combs had a bunt single to load the bases. Michael Robinson brought home a run when he was hit by a pitch with one out, and Nic Blankenship came on in relief and allowed a two-run single to JL Bland and a sacrifice fly RBI to Mason Streater that allowed the lead to increase to 6-0.
Stone worked a perfect sixth with two strikeouts before seeing his teammates add one final run of support in the bottom of the frame, as Drew Haynie led off the frame with a double, Hammons reached on an error and Hodge laid down a perfect squeeze bunt for an RBI single to make it 7-0.
Stone kept the no-hitter going until one out in the eighth inning, as Khalil Dunn ripped an RBI double to break up the no-no and the shutout on the same pitch. Stone wound up striking out 10 batters and leaving the game after a single and hit batter to start the ninth inning. Zach Joyce came on in relief and hit the first batter he faced before getting a strikeout for the first out. Another hit batter brought in the second run of the game for the Green Jays, but he coaxed a double play grounder by the next batter to end the game.