Even though game time temperature was 76 degrees, it was so hot inside Munford's dugout Friday afternoon that starting pitcher Corey Simmons had to sit outside for a moment to get some fresh air after scoring the game's first run.
The heat seemed to come from an extremely hyped up Munford baseball team that was fired up from the beginning. Munford scored two runs in the first inning and the momentum and enthusiasm never waned en route to a 6-0 win over Collierville that earned the program its first trip to the state tournament since 2004.
Munford (21-16) will begin its quest for a state title Tuesday at 4 p.m. against Brentwood in the first round of the Class AAA state tournament. The game will be played at Siegel High School in Murfreesboro.
"It has been a process that began in August with trust between a coach and his players," said first-year Munford head coach Scotty Yount. "We set a goal then to get to Murfreesboro. I promised I would do everything I could to prepare them, they promised to stick to the process. The relationships began to develop and got stronger and stronger as the year went on."
Munford's last two postseason games were dramatic one-run wins. All the drama was taken out of Friday's game in the bottom of the fifth when Munford scored four times to push its lead to 6-0. Back-to-back doubles from Garrett Baugh and Steven Kendrick, Munford's top two hitters all season, drove in the four runs.
Meanwhile, Simmons continued his domination on the mound. He retired nine straight batters at one point and never allowed a baserunner to reach third base. A lead-off walk in the sixth was erased by a double play and the outcome of the game seemed a foregone conclusion at that point. Simmons allowed just two hits over seven innings and struck out four. He was also 2 for 3 at the plate.
"I just tried to do my best, keep the ball in the field because I knew my defense would be behind me doing work," Simmons said. "I was completely confident that I could do it. I didn't want anybody with the ball in their hands besides me."
Simmons led off the bottom of the first with a bunt single and scored moments later on a Baugh double. Baugh scored on a double play to put the Cougars up 2-0.
The final out came when Brennan Hollie squeezed a throw at first from Kendricks at third. The Cougars then piled on Simmons with a trip to state secure.
“This feels great,” Baugh said. “I think some of us bought into it but not all of us. But starting district tournament I think we all started buying into it. Coach has always had our backs and believed in us. He’s always got our back and I’m thankful for that.”
"The spring started with trying to figure out our pitching, what our weaknesses were on defense, and learn how to play a little small ball," Yount said. "Once we felt we had a grip on that, we went to work on our approach at the plate. It all came together in the win over Collierville. I've said this before, we could play with anybody and when we put it all together we can beat anybody. We proved it this week. I've focused on the things I can control and preparing my team, not somebody else's pitch counts or a day ahead of the day we were playing. I love these kids and we have created a bond that will be a forever thing."
Jeff Ireland is The Leader's sports editor. To contact him, call 901-476-7116 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.