COLUMBIA, Tenn. — Walters State freshman pitcher Zebulon Matthews made his three biggest starts of the season in the last 12 days, and the right-hander has been at his best in all three outings.
He save his best for last, going eight innings and allowing just four hits against one of the best lineups in the Tennessee Community College Athletic Association, as the fourth-ranked Senators claimed back-to-back TCCAA/NJCAA Region VII Baseball Tournament titles with a 4-1 victory over Jackson State at Columbia State's Dave Hall Field Friday afternoon.
Matthews struck out seven batters and retired 19 straight at one point before giving up a run in his final inning of work. Kody Davidson came on in the ninth and was perfect, fanning two batters in notching his first save of the year to secure the tournament crown.
With the win, the top-seeded Senators reached the 50-win mark for the third time in Coach Dave Shelton's six-year tenure as head coach, as Walters State is now 50-9 on the year and will host the NJCAA East Central District Championship Series on May 15-17 at Ken Campbell Field for a berth in the Alpine Bank JUCO World Series in Grand Junction, Colorado.
Walters State will host NJCAA Region XVII and Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association Gordon State, the third-ranked team in the country with a 50-7 record, in the East Central District. Gordon State swept through the region tournament in Albany, Georgia, winning the championship game over South Georgia State, 18-11.
The loss ended the season for seventh-seeded Jackson State with a 33-22 record after playing six games in as many days and making the tournament finals after having to win a play-in game on Sunday to advance.
The Green Jays got two runners on base in the first inning on a hit batter and a single with one out, but Matthews got the next two batters out and did not allow another base runner until a two-out double in the seventh inning.
Meanwhile at the plate, the Senators took advantage of walks and defensive mistakes by Jackson State to get their runs. The first run crossed the plate in the bottom off the first inning, as Jerry Hammons reached on an infield single before Bryce Hodge was walked on four pitches. Brayden Combs followed with a single to right-center, scoring Hammons to make it 1-0.
Hodge walked again in the third inning but was stranded at first, but WSCC added to the lead in the fourth inning. Braydon Runion was hit by a pitch to lead off the frame, and after a passed ball moved him to second, Michael Robinson put down a perfect sacrifice bunt, which he beat out for a single before the throw went into right field and allowed Runion to score and make it 2-0.
The lead doubled in the fifth, as Drew Haynie reached on an error to begin the frame and Hodge drew a one-out walk. After Runion was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Robinson ripped a two-run single to make it a 4-0 advantage.
The Senators had just two more base runners the rest of the game, but Matthews made sure it didn't matter. Jackson State's only run came when Tyrin Cox singled with one out in the top of the eighth and scored on an RBI double from Cade Coffman to trim the lead to 4-1. Matthews notched the next two outs before Davidson closed out the win with a pair of punchouts in the ninth for his first save of the season.
Matthews improved to 8-2 with the win, and he was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player after allowing just one earned run on seven hits with 10 strikeouts in 14 innings with a pair of wins after winning the opener over Volunteer State on Monday.