BY JESSE SMITHEY
MURFREESBORO — No newcomer nerves for the Union County baseball team so far this week at Spring Fling.
Though the Patriots had never played in a TSSAA State Baseball Tournament prior to Tuesday’s maiden appearance, you’d never have guessed that — especially after seeing them execute their game plan as planned the first two days.
Union County (30-9) followed up Monday’s 13-3 win with another clutch one Wednesday, and the 7-4 victory over White House Heritage moved the Patriots into a good space in terms of the likelihood of them reaching the Class 2A Championship.
“I think they just work well together. They’re a group that just refuses to lose right now,” Union County coach Josh Orrick said. “It all started all the way back in the district tournament.
“They’ve been able to overcome the environment. Just having never been here before, they didn’t care what to expect. They just said, ‘Hey, we’re going to come down here and we’re going to win.'”
Forrest (25-13) will have to topple Union County twice on Thursday afternoon at Stewarts Creek for the Patriots to not make the championship game Friday at MTSU.
Union County and Forrest play at 2 p.m. Central time.
An if-necessary game will follow shortly after, should Forrest happen to beat Union County.
“We had a plan coming down here on how we wanted to try to attack it, once the bracket came out,” Orrick said. “We’ve been able to stick to the plan so far.
“Tomorrow, with us being in the position we’re in, we’re talking (with the players) about finishing.”
Here’s how Union County got into Position A.
It stormed to a 6-0 lead after three innings Wednesday, breaking open a 1-0 game with five runs in the third. Ty Edds logged an RBI in the inning. But four other runs plated off a WH-Heritage passed ball, an error and a fielder’s choice.
Ian Setzer gave Union County a little insurance in the sixth with a sac-fly RBI, pushing the advantage to 7-0.
WH-Heritage (26-8) cut into the gap somewhat in the seventh, but Max Richardson came in as a reliever for starter Eben Hansen and closed the deal. Hansen was within range of the pitch-count limit and Orrick wasn’t going to let him flirt with surpassing that — especially with a few teams across the state having accidentally violated it this season and having to forfeit said games.
Hansen, who was 1 for 1 at the plate with three walks, pitched 6.2 innings and scattered seven hits.
Whatever Union County’s blueprint was for the week, it will try to impart again on Thursday.
And what is known is: the community support for the team will be there.
“Oh, man, this community has gotten behind these kids,” Orrick said. “I feel like Union County is a baseball town now.”
GREENEVILLE BASEBALL STILL UNBEATEN IN THE BORO
Much like Union County, the Greeneville Baseball program is 2-0 this week and in a good spot at possibly making the 3A Championship.
Greeneville toasted Greenbrier, 7-0, on Wednesday at host-site Smyrna behind a complete-game, two-hit effort by senior lefty Parker Shipley.
Shipley struck out 15 batters from Greenbrier (26-12) and walked three.
Greeneville (34-3) also got three hits from Shipley in the No. 2 slot in their lineup. He drove in a run, as did Carson Quillen (2 for 3), Kobe Mundy (2 for 3) and Eli House (0 for 3).
Colton Richards went 1 for 3 with a two-run double in the fourth, when Greeneville made the scoreless game into a 4-0 lead.
Greeneville will face Brighton (29-8) in the semifinals, beginning at 2 p.m. Central time Thursday at Smyrna. Brighton must beat Greeneville twice to prevent the Greene Devils from reaching Friday’s championship.
SWEETWATER STAYS ALIVE IN CLASS 2A
In the opposite half of the Class 2A bracket from Union County, the Sweetwater Wildcats had to win twice Wednesday to fend off elimination and reach the semifinals.
And that’s just what they did.
Sweetwater (25-13), also in its first-ever tournament appearance, eliminated Cannon County, 4-2, in an early game Wednesday. Kai Correll and Ryan Littleton each homered in the win.
Sweetwater then avenged their Tuesday 8-6 loss to Riverside with a 5-2 win in the night cap Wednesday at host-site Riverdale.
Tucker Lorenz went 2 for 3 with two RBIs, and Blaine Watson also drove in a pair for the Wildcats.
Jayden Richesin pitched six innings, allowing just four hits and no earned runs.
Sweetwater, though, must beat Milan twice on Thursday to reach the 2A championship game on Friday at MTSU.
First pitch is set for 2 p.m. Central time on Thursday.