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Mustangs guaranteed seed in Regionals

Houston's Barrone Porter swipes second base as the tag from Dragon's Mitch Austin is a little late.

By Bill Sorrell 

Muy bueno.

Houston freshman pinch hitter Eleizer Bueno lived up to his name Monday night and Terrell Tatum made sure of it.

With Houston trailing Collierville 2-1 with two outs in the top of the seventh inning, Bueno pinch hit for Jeffery Collins smacking a single and scoring lead-off batter Nathan Farmer who had walked.

Then came a turn of events that propelled the No. 3- seed Mustangs to a 3-2 victory in the District 15-AAA tournament and into Region 8-AAA competition.

After pitching seven innings, Collierville right-hander Braden Green was relieved by Gabe Nicholson, a left-hander.

A left-handed batter who bats first in the Houston lineup, Tatum was at the plate.

“Terrell loves lefties,” said his father, Terry Tatum, Houston’s public address announcer.

Tatum then smashed Nicholson’s pitch to the centerfield wall. He raced past first, second and third before he ran toward home, making it appear it would be an inside the park home run, his sixth homer of the season. He was credited with a triple.

But a play at the plate by Collierville catcher Alex Bouton tagged him out. However, Tatum’s 41st RBI of the season had scored Collins who re-entered the game, running for Bueno, to give Houston a 3-2 lead.

“Bueno’s clutch single through the 4-hole (was a key play) but us scoring one run (in the sixth inning) to give us some life put us in a great position to win,” said Houston senior pitcher J.C. (Joseph Clark) Reynolds.

When Houston Head Coach Lane McCarter saw Tatum’s hit, he thought it was a home run.

“I was thinking leave the building, let’s go up two. I thought I saw it leave but obviously age has gotten the best of me. I didn’t see it and when I turned and threw my hands up like ‘Yes,’ and then the next thing I know, my fat self is trying to turn to the bullpen to make sure our pitcher is ready to go because
I told him if we took the lead, he had the ball.

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Photo by Kevin Lewter

“Then I looked back and it’s bang-bag at the plate and he calls him out and I changed my mind. I left the junior Matthew Reed in. He was throwing the ball well and he didn’t have the greatest command but you could tell his emotions were high and he was loose and he was ready. They had the top of the order coming up and he hadn’t faced the top of the order so it was a good situation for us to leave him in and let him go and the get the last three outs.”

A senior who has committed to play baseball at North Carolina State, Tatum said, “I’m blessed to have the opportunity, I got a pitch I could handle. I put my best swing on it. That was a huge win going to regionals and gives us great momentum for Wednesday’s game.”

The No. 1 seed in the district tournament and the home team on Monday at the tournament at Houston, Collierville played Germantown in an elimination game on Tuesday. The winner played Houston on Wednesday for the district tournament championship.

“We knew as long as we kept the game close, we could continue to fight,” said Tatum, a centerfielder who leads the team in home runs, RBI and batting average (.450). “That was a great team win. No one gave up and we fight until the last pitch.”

Reynolds said, “The pitching by Reid Blair (who had speeds of 91 mph) and Matthew Reed kept us in the game which was huge but those two late hits by Terrell and Eleizer really pushed the team towards the finish line to win.”

Green, a senior with a 5-3 record and 2.80 ERA, almost made it to the finish line.

“We were fortunate get the early lead (2-0 in the first) and get the momentum. Braden pitched a really gutsy performance tonight. I was really proud of him. He was in the whole way. He pitched a great game. I hate that he did not come out on the winning side because he deserved it,” said Jeff Munier, Collierville head coach.

Green, whose favorite pitch is a curve ball, had four strike outs. It was the second one-run game he has lost. He pitched five innings against Brighton and lost 1-0.

“They played well. They are a great ball team and they came up clutch at the end. That is just baseball. We will learn from it and capitalize off it,’’ said Green.

Said McCarter, “You could sense that their pitcher Braden, who is phenomenal and did a great job last year, basically putting the team on his back and taking them to state, didn’t have great command tonight and our guys stayed the course, stayed patient at the plate, tried to get a guy on here and there and then we finally got a big hit. We haven’t gotten a lot of big hits this year.”

The Mustangs got six hits, all singles except Tatum’s seventh inning triple: Barrone Porter in the first, Reid Withers in the second and sixth, Farmer in the fifth and Bueno’s in the seventh. Houston had one error.

Scoreless after the first, Collierville had three hits, a double by Chris Shaw in the first, a single by Braden Sutton in the first and single by Blake Donels in the third.

Their first win over Collierville (31-9) this season, the Mustangs improved to 21-16.

“I actually said to a couple of assistant coaches at the end, I was sad for about an hour and 50 minutes and happy for about five minutes. That is how emotions of the game went,” said McCarter, who is in his 18th season as Houston head coach.

“Bueno kept us in it. We got that two-out hit from him. Matthew Reed kept us in it. We got that one run in the sixth. That was a big run. Our senior (Tatum) stepped up and does what he did all year.”

Collierville centerfielder R.J. Dell ran into the wall trying to make the play and was on the ground for a few minutes but was not injured.

After his single, Porter got to third base on steals for Houston in the first but was stranded.

A double by Shaw scored Moss in the first after he reached on an error. Moss advanced to second on a bunt by Noah Hattier. Shaw scored on a single by Sutton for a 2-0 Dragons lead. A walk to Mitch Austin had loaded the bases. Donels had reached after being hit by a pitch.

Blair was replaced in the fifth inning by Reed with two outs. Earlier in the inning, Blair had made a great defensive catch after Hattier hit the ball right at him.

In the sixth, Porter walked and advanced to second and third on wild pitches by Green. Withers’ single scored Porter for the Mustangs’ first run.

In the bottom of the sixth Marcus Bersoza was stranded at third for Collierville.

Houston’s seventh began with a walk to Farmer.

“The main thing is that our team realizes that this isn’t the highlight of our season and that we have two more big games to win,” said Tatum, who runs the 60-yard dash in 6.21 seconds.

“That will do it for anybody,” said Terry Tatum of his son’s ability to use speed to help get an Atlantic Coast Conference scholarship.

After leading throughout the game and losing, Munier said, “That is baseball. That happens on a day to day basis in this game. We have got to keep our heads up. We have had an outstanding year. We have got to take care of business Tuesday against Germantown. We have got to play as hard as we can and lay it all on the line. It was a great high school baseball game tonight.”

A loss by the Dragons to Germantown would end their season.

Freshman pitcher Mitch Austin, who leads the team in batting with a .450 average, said, “The momentum, we didn’t have it. During the second through the sixth, they had it all. We played our hearts out. We need to execute the whole ball game one through seven innings and not stop.”

Shaw and Hall are among leading hitters for a team that Munier describes as close-knit. “That developed in the off-season and gets better day in and day out. It’s outstanding due to the nine seniors.”

Donels has committed to play at Delta State and pitcher Corey Hardeman to Freed-Hardeman University.

For Houston, Porter entered the game with 28 RBI with a .339 batting average. Shane Ptacek has a .307 batting average. Houston started three sophomores in the tournament.

“Experience is a factor,” said McCarter, who had 11 seniors graduate last year including Jack Kenley who is a third baseman at Arkansas. “Hopefully we are prepared. Our six seniors have done a good job.”

Senior pitcher Grayson Kemp has a 6-1 record. McCarter said that Blair and reliever Reynolds have done “good jobs.” Houston went to the state tournament in 2014 and 2015, losing to Knoxville Farragut High School.

Before every at-bat, Sutton draws a cross with his bat and before each game, he draws a cross with his cleat at each position.

“I just try to remind myself who I am playing for and who gives me the strength to play the game,” said Sutton, a senior, who began he practice after watching his older brother Bo Sutton do it. “Everything I do, I got from him.”

Bo Sutton played baseball at Ouachita (Ark.) Baptist University.

Braden Sutton said there is a brotherhood among Collierville players.

“That is what it is going to be the rest of the year. I believe we will be back,” he said.

Munier said, “You have got to put this behind you and play the next day and get ready to go. That is what this team has done all year long, go day to day.”

Enjoying the come-from-behind win, McCarter said, “It’s a good win in the sense that we move on to the next round. It’s not a good win if we come out on Wednesday and are not ready to take care of business. I told so many people today it’s only a big game if you win it and we won it obviously.”