MURFREESBORO — Zane Keener’s right hamstring, the one that has nagged him over the final leg of this season, was so bad this week at the Division II-A state baseball tournament that he sat out Wednesday’s game against Goodpasture.
The Tennessee signee reaggravated it during an opening-round win against Christ Presbyterian Academy (CPA) on Tuesday night.
CAK coach Tommy Pharr knew that, obviously, and came oh-so close to not starting Keener on the mound in Thursday’s championship.
“I was worried. I told him before the game, I said, ‘Hey, I’m not — I may use you in the second game,’” recalled Pharr. “He said, ‘Nah. I want to go.’ I said, ‘Do you think you can go?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I can go.’
“So I said, ‘Alright. I’m going with you, brother.’”
With his upper leg heavily wrapped and beginning to trouble again around the fourth inning, Keener went seven strong innings while also going 1-for-3 at the plate. But he didn’t get the decision.
That went to reliever Connor Jurek, who finished off the eighth inning on the mound — and then at the plate.
Jurek slapped a two-out fastball and bounced it up the middle into centerfield, driving home Hunter Loyd for a 3-2, eight-inning win over CPA in the Division II-A State Championship.
“I was hunting a fastball right there,” said Jurek, who went 1-for-3. “I had a feeling he was going to throw that. He just put it in the right spot, and I was able to get my bat out there and get a barrel on it.
“It was an unbelievable moment. It felt like time kind of froze.”
The Warriors (36-9) claimed their third state title in a row and fourth overall as a program. CAK won Class AA state titles in 2014 and 2017.
For Pharr, Thursday’s win gave him nine state titles as a coach — four with CAK and five with Farragut.
CPA (38-7) had to beat CAK twice Thursday to win the championship, since CAK hadn’t lost in the tournament and beat CPA with a 4-3, walk-off win on Tuesday night. The Lions looked poised to force a decisive Game 2 with the Warriors on Thursday at MTSU’s Reese Smith Field, putting two runners on in the eighth inning.
But with two outs, CPA’s runner at third tried to steal home but failed, ending their threat without a swing of the bat.
CAK squandered chances, too. It left three runners on in the bottom of the fourth with the game tied at 1-all and left nine runners on altogether. That includes a couple in the bottom of the seventh.
Jesse Osborne and Keener reached base. Jacob Tate, who was 2-for-4 with two RBIs, hit a shot between first and second, but the ball hit the baserunner and prevented a possible game-winning hit in the bottom of the seventh inning. Andrew Kribbs then popped out to centerfield to end the CAK threat.
Keener started the seventh but didn’t make it long. He walked the first batter before Pharr pulled him and brought in Jurek to pitch.
But Jurek’s impact will be remembered by what he did at the plate. With two outs, Hunter Loyd singled and then Luke Harms walked to set the stage for the final theatrics.
“I think every kid has (dreamed) that, bottom of the last inning with two outs and a chance to win it,” said Jurek. “I’m just super blessed to be able to do this for those seniors. I love those guys.
“It’s just an unbelievable experience.”