Trailing 7-1, Team Georgia combined for four runs in the seventh and eighth innings, but eventually came up two runs short as Team Tennessee scored a 7-5 victory in the 19th Stump Martin Memorial Tennessee-Georgia All-Star Baseball Classic at Ridgeland High School on Tuesday night.
After a brief rain shower dampened Jay Smith Field and pushed back the start of the pregame home run derby, the nine-inning contest between recent graduates from the metro-Chattanooga and northwest Georgia areas got underway at approximately 7:45 p.m. and it was Team Tennessee striking first.
Manny Velasquez (Hixson) led off the game with a walk and moved all the way to third on a double by Keaton Ray (Rhea County). Velasquez ended up racing home on a wild pitch to give Tennessee the early 1-0 lead.
A one-out double by Kyle Berry (McCallie) in the top of the second set the table for Ray two batters later as he ripped a run-scoring double to left-center, increasing the lead to 2-0.
The biggest inning for the Volunteer State came in the top of the fourth. Chase Roberts (East Hamilton) led off with a double and moved to third base on an error. Velasquez drew a one-out walk and Roberts would score on a groundout off the bat of Ray. That brought up catcher Reece Genter (South Pittsburg), who blooped a single to center to bring in Velasquez with Tennessee's fourth run.
Getting aggressive on the basepaths, Tennessee brought in Jacobi Dixon (Howard) to run for Genter and Dixon quickly stole second. He swiped third one pitch later and then raced home on Georgia's second error of the inning.
The Peach State had runners in scoring position in each of the first three innings. Georgia stranded two runners in the bottom of the first and had a runner thrown out at home in the second inning on a rare 2-3-2 double play. A nice relay throw in the third inning cut down another runner at the plate for the third out of the frame.
Georgia finally broke through in the bottom of the fourth. Davis Richardson (LaFayette) singled, took second on a wild pitch and eventually took third following a hit batter and a walk that loaded the bases. Richardson would score on a passed ball, making an athletic slide at the plate to avoid the tag and get his team on the board.
Tennessee got one of the runs back in the top of the fifth as Roberts doubled to left to bring in A.J. Wild (Hixson), who drew a walk and stole second to lead off the inning. Then in the sixth, Tennessee used a single, two walks and two very costly errors to tack on what would turn out to be its final run of the game.
Georgia missed a golden opportunity to get back in the game in the bottom of the fifth as they loaded the bases with just one out. However, pitcher Dominic Mackaluso (Ooltewah), who issued the three walks, battled back for two straight strikeouts to escape any damage.
Georgia picked up its second run of the game in the bottom of the seventh as Elijah Padgett (Adairsville) delivered a two-out single to bring in Josh McAfee (LFO), who walked to begin the inning before taking second on a wild pitch. However, two more runners were left on base as Berry made a diving catch in shallow centerfield for the third out of the inning.
Then in the bottom of the eighth, Georgia scratched out three runs without the ball leaving the infield. A one-out walk and back-to-back hit batsmen loaded the bases. Following a strikeout, C.J. Robertson (Heritage) and Padgett were also hit by pitches to bring in runs, while an infield-single by Damien Banta (Northwest Whitfield) made it 7-5.
However, reliever Brad Dossett (Hixson) got out of a bases-loaded jam by inducing a flyout to right and Alex Killian (Grundy County) set Team Georgia down in order in the bottom of the ninth, retiring the last two batters on strikes to seal the victory.
Eight different pitchers threw for Tennessee with Mackaluso getting the win. Killian was credited with the save. All total, Tennessee pitchers allowed seven hits and six walks with 10 strikeouts. Landon Maynor (Soddy-Daisy) paced the team with three strikeouts during his one inning of work in the fourth.
A total of 10 different pitchers threw for Georgia, combining to give up eight hits and just three earned runs. They accounted for 13 total strikeouts, but issued 11 walks. Robert Jent (Ridgeland), who got the start, was saddled with the loss. Jent, Tanner Folds (Sonoraville), Kenyon Ransom (Ringgold), Eli Norris (Ringgold) and Luke Owen (Christian Heritage) each finished with two strikeouts to tie for the team lead.
Robertson was named Georgia Player of the Game after reaching base three times with a pair of singles and one RBI. Roberts went 2 for 3 with two doubles, one run scored and one RBI to pick up Tennessee Player of the Game honors, while Ray's two doubles, a walk and two RBIs was enough to earn the game's Most Valuable Player award.
John Combs (Rhea County) also finished 2 for 4 with a double, and Velasquez drew walks in three of four plate appearances, scoring twice.
Bryson Lofton (Southeast Whitfield), who won the pregame derby, had a single and a walk for Georgia, while Padgett ended his night 1 for 1 with two RBIs in two plate appearances. Players from all six GHSA programs in Catoosa and Walker County participated in the game.
Tennessee now leads the all-time series, 16-3-1.