LYNCHBURG — Sophomore Luke Toms hit a walk-off home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to lead the Motlow Bucks to a 7-6 win over Walters St. Saturday in the semifinals of the TCCAA/Region VII Tournament in Gallatin.
With the win the Bucks advanced to Sunday’s championship game, where they fell to top-seed Columbia St 8-4. However, because Motlow finished as the tournament runner-up, they will advance along with Columbia St. to the NJCAA East/Central District tournament May 15-17 in Covington, Georgia. The Region XVII tournament in Georgia will be held this coming weekend to determine its two representatives.
The last time the Bucks advanced to a district tournament was 2000, when former coach Don Rhoton led Motlow to a district championship and a berth in the NJCAA national tournament where they finished as national runner-up. It is the only time in Motlow baseball history the Bucks have played in the national tournament.
Motlow (40-22) entered this year’s conference tournament as the No. 4 seed after sweeping Cleveland St. 8-4, 7-6 in the opening round at the Driver Complex in Moore County. The game-two win featured a ninth inning two-run walk-off single by Motlow’s Hayden Pewitt.
The Bucks entered the final inning against Walters on Saturday trailing 6-3 and needing a miracle to keep their season alive. Devon Dager led off the inning with a single and Nick Chambers walked. JC Daily drove both home with a triple to cut the Walters St. lead to 6-5.
With two outs and Daily on third base, Toms lofted a blast into left field, barely clearing the wall and sending the Bucks into a wild celebration. The Bucks advance to the district tournament for the first time in Head Coach Dan McShea’s eight-year tenure at Motlow.
After its wins over Cleveland St. the Bucks were one of five teams that advanced to the tournament in Gallatin. Motlow opened play in Gallatin with a 2-1 win over the home team, Volunteer St., on Friday. The Bucks got a masterful pitching performance from Elliott Bush (6-5), who went the distance and allowed only three hits.
Toms, who had three home runs during the weekend, provided all the runs Bush needed with a two-run homer in the first inning, driving in Logan Conley who had reached on a Pioneer error with one out. Volunteer St. scored its lone run the sixth inning.
After beating the Pioneers the Bucks had to turn right around and play Columbia St. Friday night. The Chargers, who won the conference regular season championship, built an 8-1 lead in the first five innings and cruised to a 10-3 win. Matt Sharp (10-3) took the loss for Motlow, allowing nine hits and six earned runs. The Bucks managed eight hits, including two by Toms who also drove in two runs.
The loss Friday night dropped Motlow into the elimination bracket, where they were once again matched up against Volunteer St. on Saturday. The Bucks built a 5-0 lead through five innings and held off an attempted Pioneer comeback to win 5-3.
Jacob Toney (2-1) got the win on the mound for Motlow, pitching seven innings and allowing five hits and one earned run. Hayden Bailey pitched the final two innings to earn his ninth save.
Ben Holland, who was named to the all-conference team, got the Bucks’ offense started with a solo home run to lead off the second inning. The Bucks added three runs in the fourth inning as Toms, who led off the inning getting hit by a pitch, scored on Pewitt’s fielder’s choice. Chambers drove in Pewitt with a single and Daily gave Motlow a 4-0 lead with an RBI single, scoring Dager.
Motlow’s final run came in the fifth when Toms doubled, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and scored on Clayton Palicki’s RBI single. The win put the Bucks in position to play Walters St. in an elimination game, with the winner advancing to the tournament championship and earning a spot in the district tournament in Georgia.
Walters St. jumped out to a 3-0 lead with three runs in the second inning off Motlow starter Peyton Phillips, then added another run in the third to lead 4-0. The Bucks scored their first run in the bottom of the third when Chambers singled and scored on Chris Adams’ RBI double.
Bailey relieved Phillips and pitched the fourth and fifth innings, allowing one run and three hits. Hammer (3-3) took the mound for Motlow in the sixth and pitched the final three innings, allowing five hits and one unearned run to get the win.
Trailing 5-1, Conley and Toms led off the bottom of the sixth with back-to-back home runs to cut the Walters St. lead to 5-3. The Senators added their final run in the top of the eighth inning to increase their lead to 6-3, setting the stage for Motlow’s ninth-inning walk-off victory.