By Brian DeGruchy
FRANKLIN, Tenn. – The 14u Big South Regional Gold Bracket Championship game had thunder from the ball hitting the bat, and in the sky around Jim Warren Park on Monday, as the Nashville Knights Platinum took an 8-6 victory over ITP Lightning (Caldwell) from Atlanta, Georgia.
The Knights were undefeated (6-0) in the three-day tournament and handed ITP Lightning (5-1) its only loss in the final game.
“We had all our guys back, and I thought we played very cohesively and got a lot of clutch hits. We were really good on the mound, everybody contributed, and that’s what I was really happy about,” said Knights’ head coach Chad Biles. “We were in control for most of our games. All of it comes from the kids. They were very concentrated and into every inning.”
The Knights got on the board in the bottom of the first inning. Leadoff hitter Brantley Bamberg drew a lead-off walk and moved to second on a ground ball to the shortstop before stealing third. Bamberg scored on a throwing error after Trey Hunter hit a double to right center, and Hunter later scored on an error to give the Knights a 2-0 lead.
The Lightning answered back with a run of their own in the top of the second inning. Mason Stephenson reached first on a single to second base and then advanced to third on a double down the rightfield line by Charles Lindsay. Stephenson scored on a wild pitch to cut the Knights lead in half, 2-1.
Nashville added two more runs in the fifth. Bamberg hit a double down the leftfield line and went to third on a single to left by Harrison Gant, before Trey Hunter drove him on a single to center for a 3-1 lead. Gant scored on a balk later in the inning to give the Knights a 4-1 advantage.
The Lightning tied the game, 4-4, in the top of the sixth after Francisco Armstrong got the rally started with a single to center. Kai Cunningham followed with a double, and then a bases-clearing, two-RBI triple by Robert Clarke made it 4-3. Clarke later scored on a fielder’s choice by Lindsay.
The Knights strung together four runs in the bottom of the sixth to regain the lead. Pinch hitter Nick Judd collected a leadoff walk and moved second on a sacrifice bunt by Creed McLellan. The next batter, Nathan Peay, took his base on balls before Bamberg reached base for the third time in the game on a single through the left side to load the bases for Gant.
Coach Biles called for a suicide squeeze, and Gant delivered a perfect bunt to allow everyone to be safe on the bunt single. Carter stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded and could have possibly taken an inside fastball to put him on base, but instead smacked a two-RBI single to center. A misplayed ball in center allowed a third run to score and moved Carter to third, giving the Knights an 8-4 edge.
Carter’s single came after turning his back on a fastball in the at bat, to which the crowd reacted.
“It did give me motivation to get a base hit. It also made me mad, and I said, ‘this ball is done with,’ and I just tried to hit it right back up the middle just like our coaches teach us,” Carter said. “I felt confident about this game. We were getting hyped right before the game and we were ready to play this game. We all just played together and I felt like I was on a really good hitting streak.”
The Lightning did not go down quietly, as they got a rally started on a single to left by Nate Lyons and a walk to Hayes Woley. Cunningham brought in Lyons on a single to right center and Clarke reached on a double to right to put the winning run at the plate, but the game ended on a fly out to center.
Bamberg scored three of the Knights’ eight runs as the leadoff hitter.
“When I get on base coach gives me the green light to steal bases, and I think that gives my teammates a better opportunity to drive me in,” Bamberg said. “I have not been hitting good for a while, and it felt good to hit and drive some runs in. It was a good game both ways. I think we came out on top because we drove the ball better and played better defense. We all came in clutch spots and did what we needed to do.”
Nashville starting pitcher Justin Battle went five innings, striking out six Lightning hitters and allowing one earned run. Carter collected the win in relief, despite allowing three earned runs to tie the game. He struck out two. Jackson Underwood closed the game in the seventh, allowing two earned runs and striking out one.
The Big South Regional is the Knights’ first championship win of the summer after finishing runner-up in a couple of championship games before this one.
In other 14u action, Fury Performance claimed the Silver Bracket with a 5-4 win over the Clarksville Orioles and Cross Hit Red came out on top in the consolation bracket.