Neil Borden was 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout when he came to bat in the bottom of the eighth inning with the winning run at second.
It was only fitting it be him.
The Alcoa High School sophomore belted a double back up the middle, Ben “White Shoes” Hughs raced home, and the Tornadoes capped a rally from nine runs down to stun visiting Fulton, 14-13, on Monday.
The Borden blast was in keeping with everything else the Tornadoes (9-10, 5-2 District 3AA) had done from the fifth inning on.
Fulton (6-9, 2-6) had blown it open with a six-run second and a five-run fourth to lead, 12-3, after 3 ½ innings. In the bottom of the inning, Alcoa coach Steve Dunn gathered the Tornadoes in front the dugout and delivered an impassioned plea.
“Don’t quit!” he exclaimed. “Just don’t quit!”
They didn’t, and, beginning with Travis Cunningham’s lead-off single an inning later, the Tornadoes put on a dramatic display of what can happen when you don’t.
“With our team, they’re so young in terms of experience,” Dunn said. “We really don’t have a lot of varsity experience. When we get down, we get down. I just told them, ‘You guys cannot quit; just don’t get down.’
“They (the Falcons) definitely helped us out a little bit, but we put it (the ball) in play. They (the Tornadoes) got enthusiastic about the game. They wanted to win.”
Cunningham, 4-for-5 on the day, sparked an inning that would see Alcoa trim five runs from the Fulton lead. Michael Stubblefield, 3-for-5 with a double and a triple, cracked a three-RBI double to collect Cunningham, Daniel Cline and Clint Coulter in the frame. After Josh Kincannon singled to pick up Stubblefield, the Tornadoes were suddenly down only four.
An inning later, thanks to back-to-back doubles from Cunningham and Cline and an RBI-single from Coulter, the Fulton lead was two.
“We’ve been down before in a couple of games,” Cline said, “and we’d hold our heads down and not fight back.”
“We started getting hits, and we just exploded,” Coulter said.
While the bats got going, Cunningham, in relief on the mound, put the brakes on the Falcon offense. Fulton went in order in the fifth and sixth, with Cunningham retiring the side by strikeout in the latter inning.
The Falcons threw a scare into the senior right-hander with back-to-back hits to start the seventh, one of them a high, deep drive to the center field wall to edge the Falcons out front, 13-10. Cline had raced hard after the shot but, rather risk surrendering another run, chose play the ball off the carom. When the next Falcon batter deposited a Cunningham pitch in exactly the same spot, another seeming sure double, Cline went for broke.
On his horse at the crack of the bat, the Tornado junior laid out to come up with a spectacular, over-the-shoulder, full-extension catch for the first out of the inning.
“I was ready for that one,” Cline said. “I saw I was running under it.”
Few in the park thought Cline had a chance on the play, including a Falcon base runner, who’d left second without tagging and was doubled off.
“I heard everybody yelling, and I just threw it,” Cline said.
The defensive gem was the telling blow, Dunn said.
“Everyone was excited and fired up about it,” he said.
The third out of the inning then nestled peacefully in Cline’s glove in routine fashion.
Half an inning later, Alcoa was even at 13-all, with Coulter’s two-RBI single knotting the score.
In the Alcoa eighth, the improbable became reality, and, as with Borden’s game-winning hit, it would be a player who’d struggled much of the day who would play the hero.
Tyler Robinson was 0-for-4 as he walked to the plate to lead off the inning. He’d hit the ball hard all game but, unfortunately each time, right at the Fulton defense. He’d do it again, only this time he swung with such force the ball raced through the legs of the Falcon third baseman before he could get this glove down.
It looked like smoke trailing between his cleats.
Hughs came on to run. Famed for his trademark white shoes, the Tornado senior had once before delivered. Courtesy running for Robinson on that occasion as well, Hughs had stolen second and third before plating the winner on a passed ball.
Monday, Hughs quickly stole second to get into scoring position. On cue, Borden lofted a double over the Fulton infield.
“I told myself, ‘Oh, man. Get a hit,’” he said.
When he did, Hughs said he had only one thing in mind: “I’m gone!”