By JESSE SMITHEY
Gibbs’ start Tuesday in the Class AA state tournament wasn’t one to cherish. But the ending sure was.
The Eagles rallied for two runs in the bottom of the seventh to rally past Watertown for a 4-3 win and avoid falling into an elimination game Wednesday morning.
Meanwhile, on the top half of the Class AA bracket, Pigeon Forge got off to a great start against Ripley and maneuvered into the winners’ bracket with a 4-0 win.
Gibbs and Pigeon Forge proved to be the area’s top two Class AA teams this season and battled twice in the regular season, again in the district tournament finale and once more in the region championship.
They tested each other’s mettle.
And Tuesday, they proved that toughness.
Gibbs (29-7) trailed 3-0 heading into the home half of the inning against Watertown (27-6). But the Eagles posted two runs in the bottom of the fourth on an RBI-triple by sophomore Braden Graves and RBI-single by Carson Raby.
And then in the final inning, Gibbs played a little small ball for the win.
Mason Bell sacrificed pinch-runner Ethan Coppinger in from third base.
And then, with two outs, Dawson Warwick bunt-singled to the right side of the field, scoring Brayden Taylor for the win.
Gibbs collected just five hits Tuesday but made good on them. The Eagles will play Covington (25-15) in a 12:30 game Central time on Wednesday at Blackman High School.
“Bunting has been my strongest attribute all year,” said Warwick. “I aw the second baseman playing back after I had already done it once, so I was comfortable with doing it at that point in the game.
“It was a crazy experience, and I’m glad we could pull it out in front of Wallen.”
Country singer Morgan Wallen, who played and started on Gibbs’ 2010 Class AA state baseball championship team, was in the dugout with the Eagles on Tuesday for the last couple innings.
As for Pigeon Forge, it defeated Ripley 4-0 — and never gave up a hit.
Riley Franklin got the positive momentum rolling early for the Tigers (30-4) with a first-inning, RBI-single for a 1-0 lead.
Bryce Effler’s two-out, two-run single in the second inning bumped the lead to 3-0.
That was all the run support Pigeon Forge pitchers Riley Franklin and Justin McClellan needed.
Franlin threw the first 3.2 innings, mowing down five Ripley hitters and walking one in 54 pitches.
McClellan pitched the final 3.1 innings. He struck out eight, walked one and needed just 46 pitches.
Effler led the Pigeon Forge offense with a 2-for-3 day.
The Tigers will take on Nolensville (25-9) at 12:30 p.m. Central time on Wednesday at Smyrna High School.