By Thomas Sellers Jr.
It was supposed end in Murfreesboro on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University.
Maybe the 2018 season was supposed to conclude Friday in Brighton, Collierville or Germantown. But the Brighton Cardinals’ record-setting campaign wasn’t supposed to stop Regional Monday Night.
The Arlington Tigers traveled to Tipton County to take on the District 13-3A champion Brighton Cardinals in the Region 7-3A Baseball Tournament semifinals last Monday.
Winner would earn a spot in the Region championship game and advanced to Friday’s Sectionals. The loser would see a season of promise come to an end.
The Tigers used a solid pitching performance from senior Dalton Fowler to earn a 3-0 decision over the Cardinals. Brighton Head Coach Michael Wickersham fought back tears as he huddled with his seniors one last time in the outfield.
The Class of 2018 arrived on campus the same time as their Skipper.
“This is my first group,” Coach Wick said. “I wanted it so bad for them. They have put in so much hard work. I told them when they were freshmen, ‘It wasn’t going to be easy but it was going to be rewarding.’ I wanted it more for them than me. I’ve been there before. But that group right there is something special. It’s tough right now. It hurts when you lose this one.”
Arlington advanced to take on the Bartlett Panthers in the Regional title game. The Panthers were 8-1 victors over the Dyer County Choctaws Monday night in Freeman Park.
The Tigers were defeated by the Panthers earlier this month in the District 14-3A championship game. Before Arlington could set up the rematch with Bartlett, the Tigers had to overcome one of the best teams in West Tennessee in Brighton.
The Cardinals entered Monday night district regular-season and tournament champs.
“Highlights, where do I start,” Wickersham said. “We set a record for school start with 18-0. We went down to Gulf Shores and beat all those big time Alabama teams that were 25-2 at the beginning of our season. We had three senior pitchers in there that all started the season 6-0.”
The trio of Eli Davis, Will Dunlap and Brett Wilkins were vital to the historic start for Brighton and consistent success throughout the season. Wilkins was handed the ball against Arlington. Fowler knew he had to lock in early to defeat the Cardinals.
“It was a good team win,” the senior ace said. “We played defense really well. We all just stayed together as a team. We stayed in the middle, kept it even cool the whole game. We had our ups and downs, but we just stayed in the middle the whole game.”
Fowler said his nerves were calm once he stepped on the mound at Brighton Baseball Field.
“I knew I was going to come out and trust my defense and just fill it up,” he said. “I just want to give my team the best chance to win this ball game.”
Arlington scored in the top of first inning on a RBI single to take a 1-0 lead. The Tigers added couple of insurance runs in the sixth inning to secure victory over Brighton.
Wilkins struck out six Tigers throughout the night holding them scoreless in four innings. Meanwhile Fowler escorted five Cardinals to the bench via the K.
Despite both aces dealing throughout the first six innings, Arlington and Brighton had chances to score. The Tigers squeezed out three runs. The Cardinals missed out on precious opportunities including bases loaded in the seventh inning with Dalton Rushing at the plate.
“A couple of times we shot ourselves in the foot,” Wickersham said. “With that two-run inning in the sixth, we had that kid with two strikes. We had bases loaded there with two outs with our best hitter up. He could have ended it in a quick hurry. He could hit a single to get a couple of runs in. We thought we had a couple of plays at first base but the umpire said his foot was on the bag. Those things happen. That’s just baseball.”
The Tigers guaranteed themselves a spot in Friday’s Sectional round, one win away from State. The Cardinals were left to think about what could have been and reminsce on 2018 special moments. Wickersham noted the .438 batting average of junior Dylan Forbess and the outstanding third base play of Blane Lavell.
The Cardinals seniors have left the program in the hands of players like Dalton Rushing, Sam Dunlap, Logan Rushing and Dylan Baskin. Wickersham said his seniors of Davis, Wilkins, Will Dunlap, Cody Howard, Robert Amundson, Brent Howard and Collins Morton left an example of Cardinal Power.
“I’m really proud of them,” he concluded. “We always talk to them about it being a seven round fight. Just keep punching and we’ll look at the scorecard in the seventh round. If the seventh round means a knock out, we’ve got to have a knockout. They sure enough were swinging for it. We had our chances to win. We just fell short to a great team.”
Arlington proved its greatness by beating Bartlett 4-1 in the Region championship game. Then the Tigers clinched a spot in this week’s State Tournament beating Houston. Collierville will be joining them in Murfreesboro this week after defeating Bartlett 2-0.
By Thomas Sellers Jr.