By SAM McGAW | Photos by KINDELL MOORE
Christ Presbyterian Academy’s bats went cold in Friday’s Class AA state championship against Christian Academy of Knoxville.
After jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, the Lions failed to garnish a hit in the final four frames en route to a 3-2 loss at Middle Tennessee State’s Reese Smith Jr. Field.
“The transformation in our team has been incredible,” CPA head coach Larry Nesbitt said. “We’ve gone from not knowing how far we would go to becoming an amazing team. We got in the loser’s bracket in Game One of the district tournament and then again in the state tournament. Our guys never stopped believing.”
CAK pitcher Jacob Strider, a Clemson signee, struck out 10 batters and allowed six hits and two earned runs in a complete game. CPA pitcher Carson Houk threw four strikeouts and allowed six hits and two earned runs in 5.2 innings.
“We had a young sophomore on the mound going against Strider, who’s a future draft pick and Clemson commit, and still had a chance,” Nesbitt said. “There was no doubt our guys believed.”
This is CPA’s second straight state runner-up finish after winning the title in 2015. CAK’s lone Class AA championship win came in 2014.
Both teams will transition to Division II this offseason.
“We had a ton of seniors that we lost from last year,” Clarke said. “We lost a bunch of chemistry, so it took us a long time to get our chemistry working this year. We felt like if we could play as long as we possibly could together, our chemistry could get better and better.”
Jacob Tate pushed in the go-ahead run with a one-out, line-drive single to right field in the bottom of the sixth.
CPA put runners on first and second with one out in the seventh, but Strider retired the next two batters to seal the win.
“Our theme all season has been get to the final day,” said CPA catcher Philip Clarke, a Vanderbilt signee. “That inning, we huddled up and said get to the final out and take as long as we can. We clawed and clawed and believed in each other. We came a little short, but I’m proud of our guys.”
Clarke put CPA ahead 1-0 with a two-out home run over the right-centerfield wall in the top of the first. Lane Harris drove in Kane Patterson two batters later with a line-drive single to centerfield.
“I think it helped with our confidence for us to get some early hits off a guy like Strider, who’s that good and that capable of shutting any team out,” Clarke said. “It’s nice for our underclassmen to see someone connect early and get in their head that he’s not un-hittable.”
Clarke connected against Strider again in the third inning for a single to right field. He was later thrown out at the plate on Harris’ single to left field.
“You have to take risks to win the state championship,” Clark stated. “Coach [Nesbitt] had faith in me, and I’m glad he did. I’m not the fastest runner.”
Conner Quinn cut CAK’s deficit to 2-1 with a two-out RBI double in the fourth inning. It was the first hit Houk allowed.
Robert Gee tied the game with a one-run double on to left field in the fifth inning.