BY JESSE SMITHEY
MURFRESBORO — Ian Hubbard couldn’t pull his yellow Catholic baseball jersey off fast enough. But as soon as he broke free from it, he darted out to centerfield ready to celebrate with the boys.
Obviously, that isn’t normal decorum in a high school baseball championship.
But when you’re the one responsible for a bases-load, walk-off hit with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning to give your team its first-ever championship, anything goes.
Left in Hubbard’s wake was a trail of Fighting Irish baseball players who eventually caught up to him in the outfield and they properly celebrated the 4-3 win over Christ Presbyterian Academy at MTSU’s Reese Smith Jr. Field.
“That was my thing. Take the shirt off,” Hubbard said.
“Why not? Last game. My jersey. Meant a lot to me. I don’t know why I threw it down. But, it’s just something I’ve wanted to do for a while now.”
The victory gave Catholic Baseball, a state runner-up three times (2009, 2014, 2015), its first gold trophy in program history — making good on the promise it showed all season long, but especially after stunning a loaded Baylor program in the state quarterfinals series on May 17 in Chattanooga.
Catholic (31-9) swept Baylor and then came to Murfreesboro and reeled off wins over CPA (Tuesday), Lipscomb Academy (Wednesday) and then CPA again Thursday in the season finale.
Caleb Moore, a 2001 Catholic graduate who took over the head-coaching gig at his alma mater in July 2015, called the moment “surreal” when hearing his Irish announced inside the stadium Thursday as first-time champions.
“We had a different path to get here this year. We’re not a team with a bunch of Division I players, but we’re a great ball team that was slept on a little bit,” he said. “Not a lot talked about us, coming into this.
“The big thing is: we just got to take care of business. And we were lucky enough today to do that. … we got hot at the right time. And that’s what playoff baseball is about.”
Tennessee signee Daniel Parris hit a two-run homer Wednesday in the final inning that put the Irish ahead 6-4 against Lipscomb Academy.
But CPA (29-13) wanted no part of the senior hitting a dramatic shot against them on Thursday. So in the bottom of the seventh, with two outs and two runners on, CPA coaches elected to intentionally walk Parris (o for 3 Thursday) to face Hubbard.
Hubbard, a lefty who had hit .413 in the regular season with nine homers and 39 RBIs, ripped his game-winner off a 1-1 pitch out to center.
“They threw a change-up down the middle,” Hubbard said. “My coaches, before the at-bat, told me to stay through it. We knew what was coming. They throw a lot of off-speed (pitches).
“It fell. And we got the championship.”
His teammates tried to grab him and celebrate before he could even touch first. A similar situation (a player failing to reach first on a walk-off celebration) cost Trinity Christian a championship win against Greenback in the 2019 TSSAA Class 1A Championship.
But Hubbard — whether by his own cognizance or by seeing a coach motion him hard to first — quickly realized he needed to get to the first bag. Once there, he began his wardrobe change.
He finished the game with a team-high two hits and two RBIs.
Parris pitched six innings for Catholic. CPA took a lead 1-0 in the top of the first off him, but Hubbard doubled in a run in the bottom of the first during a three-run inning for the Irish to gain the momentum. Hubbard scored that inning off a Joey Lamattina single.
CPA pulled even in the third, scoring two runs thanks to a walk, a hit-by-pitch and an error by Catholic.
The Irish mustered one hit combined in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
But in the seventh, Ben Sompayrac got hit by a pitch and that started turning the tide for Catholic. Hudson Lutterman followed with a two-out single two batters later.
When Catholic runners advanced on a wild pitch, CPA went ahead, mid at-bat, and put Parris on base.
Hubbard took centerstage from there.
“He deserves it,” Moore said of Hubbard’s moment. “He’s put in so many hours behind the scenes, just trying to get better.
“For him to get the game-winning hit, he deserves it.”
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