By SAM McGAW | Photos by STEVE WHEELER
The Independence Eagles turned to freshman pitcher Robert Hassell to save their season at Brentwood Monday.
The left-handed Tennessee commit didn’t disappoint, as he fired 14 strikeouts in six innings to help take down the Bruins 1-0 in a District 11-AAA tournament elimination game.
“The seniors are a big reason why we kept pushing through,” Hassell said. “We had that all-in mentality, because they didn’t want to play their last game.”
Sam Molnar gave second-seeded Independence its lone run with a solo home run over the left-field fence in the top of the fourth inning.
“We’ve been pretty resilient all year long,” Independence head coach Mike McLaury said. “We have a good team, Brentwood has a good team and this was a good game. Sam Molnar just turned one fastball around. That’s just baseball. I’m proud of our guys.”
Indy, which lost to Dickson County in the opening round Saturday, will battle Centennial in another elimination game at Brentwood at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Brentwood will have time to rest after clinching an automatic Region 6-AAA tournament berth with its regular-season district title. It lost to Ravenwood in its first tournament game Sunday.
“We have to do the little things better,” Brentwood head coach Bill Moore said. “We aren’t putting together good at-bats, we’re not taking advantage of good opportunities and we’re not taking advantage of what the defense is giving us. If we don’t clean this up, it’s going to be tough next week.”
The Bruins put two runners in scoring position with no outs in the bottom of the sixth, but Hassell struck out three straight batters to escape the inning unscathed.
“Sometimes, in those situations, I talk to myself to calm myself down,” said Hassell, who also had a team-high two hits. “I just kept telling myself to get out of it. I didn’t want to go home this early. It was just a matter of relaxing, throwing strikes and throwing pitches they would chase.”
Brentwood pitcher Caleb Pearson threw eight strikeouts in six innings.
“I missed my spot one time and (Molnar) tanked it,” Pearson said. “I just decided to go right back in there. I knew if I shut them out a little bit and keep it to a 1-0 lead, we could maybe get something together, but we just couldn’t pull it out.”
Brentwood designated hitter Patrick Queener opened the bottom of the seventh with a single and eventually made it to third base. However, Indy closing pitcher Matt Hargrove retired three straight batters to seal the win.