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Champs’ storied season ends in sectional series

By WILL CARTER ~ Sports Writer
Posted 5/18/23

BELL BUCKLE — After starting the season with a 3-9 record that included a six-game losing streak, the Cascade Champions made a drastic turnaround at the end of the season by going on an …

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Champs’ storied season ends in sectional series


BELL BUCKLE — After starting the season with a 3-9 record that included a six-game losing streak, the Cascade Champions made a drastic turnaround at the end of the season by going on an eight-game winning streak that included District 7-AA and Region 4-AA championships.
But their rally came to a close on Wednesday night as they dropped the Class 2A State Sectional opening round doubleheader to the Cannon County Lions by final scores of 11-5 and 16-6 respectively. 
In Game 2 of the twinbill, Cascade (15-17) faced an early 3-0 deficit after Cannon County (12-7-1) plated two runs in the bottom of the second inning, and A.J. Armstrong led off the bottom of the third with a solo home run over the centerfield wall. 
Champion starter Jaxon Sheffield answered immediately after by striking out the following three batters for his eighth of the game, having previously struck out the side in the first and adding two more in the second. 
With a bit of momentum, the Champions plated three runs in the top of the fourth to tie the game. 
Sheffield drew a walk to start the inning, and he scored on the next pitch as Sawyer Lovvorn sent a fly ball off the left field wall to make it 3-1. 
Lovvorn scored one pitch later as Walker Craig sent a hard ground ball through the infield and past the Lions’ left fielder for a single turned triple with the error. 
Two at-bats later, Conner Melson laid a bunt down the first baseline to score Craig from third for a 3-3 ballgame before the inning ended on consecutive strikeouts. 
Cannon County regained the lead in the bottom half of the fourth as Armstrong came through for the Lions with a bases clearing, two out double to make it 6-3, and a single in the next at-bat made it 7-3. 
“All night they grinded at-bats, and forced us to throw the ball over the heart of the plate,” Cascade head coach Travis Sheffield said. “Base hits on full counts early in the game hurt us. They’re a good hitting team, but I feel like we left something out there.”
Sheffield struck out the final batter of the inning for his 10th and final of the game. 
Cascade plated one run in the top of the fifth on a Sheffield single to lessen their deficit, but Cannon County put up another four spot in the bottom half to extend their lead to 11-4. 
After the Champions made it a five-run game with two runs in the top of the sixth, the Lions put an end to the tug-of-war match as one run scored on a bases-loaded walk, and in the next at-bat Gaige Turner launched the first pitch he saw over the center field wall for a walk-off grand slam to secure the Lions’ spot in the state tournament. 
“We just didn’t play our type of baseball,” Sheffield said. “We gave them a lot of runs, and I’ll probably look back tomorrow and think we handed them a ticket to state.”
In his first season as the Champions’ skipper, Sheffield’s main goal was to establish a standard and foundation for the program moving forward. 
After claiming district and region titles despite some bumps along the way, the standard and foundation appear to be set. 
“Coming into Year 1, I wanted to set the standard for this program. Once we got through the early kinks, the guys could go out and play without worrying about lineups and stuff like that,” Sheffield said. “We definitely overachieved my expectations this year, but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that the state tournament was the ultimate goal. Cascade and this area have been wanting a team like this that they can come out and root for with a chance at state on the line. I felt like we had the guys to get there, but we just didn’t make enough plays tonight to do that.”
At the forefront of building the foundation Sheffield was looking for were three seniors in Chance Brown, Noah McGeary, and Jaxon Sheffield. 
All of which made an impact on the field and in the dugout that will be difficult to replicate. 
“Three guys playing up the middle on defense, 1-2-3 in the lineup, hovering around a .400 batting average, 30-plus runs scored, and less than 15 strikeouts. They’re going to be hard to replace, but it’s doable,” Sheffield said. “This next group is going to have to work hard right away, and know that Chance, Noah, and Jaxon have set the foundation for them to be successful next year.”

Cannon Co. 021 445 x — 16 10 3
Cascade 000 312 x — 6 7 2

Cascade: Sawyer Lovvorn 2-for-3, Chance Brown 2-for-4, Walker Craig 1-for-2, Jaxon Sheffield 1-for-3, Noah McGeary 1-for-4.

LP: Sheffield.

After taking a 1-0 lead in the first inning, Cascade surrendered eight runs to Cannon County in the top of the second with four of those runs being walked in, and it ultimately proved costly as the Champions fell 11-5 in Game 1. 
Walker Craig toed the mound for the Champions to start the game, but was replaced by Jayden Hathcock in the second inning after giving up four runs on seven walks. 
The Lions scored four more runs after the pitching change to take an 8-1 lead into the bottom half of the second. 
“We gave up that eight spot in the second inning, and we just lost our composure,” Sheffield said. “Lost our composure and couldn’t throw the ball over the plate. That was our nemesis early in the season, and it came back to haunt us at the worst time.”
After a pair of strikeouts to start the bottom half of the second, back-to-back errors by the Lions gave the Champions runners on the corners, and Brown sent a line drive to center field to score Logan Pulley from third to make it 8-2. 
Logan Green rounded third to try to score one more run on the play, but Cannon County secured the tag at home to end the inning. 
The Lions extended their lead to 10-2 in the top of the fourth inning with two runs on a pair of singles before the Champions secured three consecutive outs, including a pair of strikeouts by Hathcock. 
An inning later, Brown stepped to the plate for Cascade with Pulley on second base, and he blasted a ball over the center field wall to make it 10-4 and give the Champions some momentum. 
Brown went 4-for-4 at the plate in game one and 6-for-8 overall on the night.
Three at-bats later, Lovvorn doubled to score Sheffield from second after a successful stolen base for a 10-5 game before the end of the inning. 
Neither team mustered much for the rest of the game until the top of the seventh when Cannon County plated their final run of the game on a ground ball by Turner that scored Jon Hare. 
In their final plate appearance of game one, a single from Brown was all the Champions notched as a double play ended the game at 11-5. 

Cannon Co. 080 200 1 — 11 6 3
Cascade 110 030 0 — 5 6 2

Cascade: Chance Brown 4-for-4, Sawyer Lovvorn 2-for-3. 

LP: Craig.