Alcoa coach Steve Dunn gave Will Shelton, standing next to him, a respectable little tap of appreciation as the Tornado skipper first walked away after post-game remarks to The Daily Times.
Then the veteran Dunn broke his reserve. Twisting back, Dunn broke into a grin and said, “Aw, come here man,” then gave his senior a hefty bear hug.
The hug was deserved. Shelton had just produced only the fourth Alcoa hit of the night when he jacked a two-out fastball well past the fence in dead-center field to give the Tornadoes a come-from-behind extra inning 7-4 victory over Gibbs Wednesday night.
The heroic homer gave Shelton the win on the mound, as well. Relieving starter Kobe Robinson with one out in the fifth, Shelton allowed three runs before getting out of that jam, then pitched four scoreless innings yielding only two hits while Alcoa (17-5) fought back for the win.
After the ninth-inning heroics, Dunn had probably forgotten that Shelton had drawn the two-out walk in the seventh that plated the tying run that forced extra innings.
“It’s a weird game,” Dunn told The Daily Times. “I tell people, it’s a stupid game. We didn’t play well, we didn’t hit really well, but we grinded something out and finally figured it out.”
Gibbs (10-10) was one out away in the bottom of the seventh from claiming a 4-2 win, but Ryan Whitson, Grant Livesay and Ty Boyd all drew walks to force a pitching change. Then the Eagles committed their only error, a booted grounder to second by Kaleb Cardwelll, to score one.
Shelton then forced extras with a full-count walk to give Alcoa extra life.
After Shelton and losing pitcher Brady Spangler pitched perfect frames in the eighth, Gibbs loaded the bases in the ninth on two walks and an infield error, but shortstop Boyd speared a high line drive to set up the dramatic Alcoa ending.
Whitson, the only Tornado with two hits, led off with a sliced single to right, was sacrificed by Livesay then moved to third on a single from Boyd. Cardwell hit a grounder to third and Whitson was tagged off the bag in a controversial play. But then Shelton helped Alcoa fans forget the gaffe with his walk-off winner.
“I just did what I needed to do,” Shelton said. “I just needed to hit the ball hard, and that ball just happened to go over the fence.”
Shelton, who started the game as designated hitter, said he had no idea he would be pitching until Dunn called on him to warm up during the fourth inning.
Entering with one out in the fifth and bases loaded, the right-hander gave up a two-run single, a walk and hit batter for a third run, putting the Eagles up 4-2 before catcher Nick Roberts ended the rally picking off a runner at third.
The loss was on Robinson until Alcoa squared the score in its last chance.
Robinson started on a high note, recording all nine outs in the first three frames via strikeout. Gibbs scored one in the second behind a walk and two throwing errors from Robinson on infield nubbers.
Alcoa countered with a run on no hits, as Nick Roberts opened by being hit, then his pinch-runner Angel Solez scored after being advanced, stealing third and scoring on a sacrifice fly from Robinson.
The Tornadoes held a brief 2-1 lead on another manufactured run in the third. Cardwell walked with one out, advanced to third on heady baserunning, then stole home with two outs, sliding just under the tag for another hitless run.
Both teams gave up eight walks and both teams ended with just four hits. Alcoa added two hit batters and Gibbs plunked one.
“(Gibbs) is a darn good team,” Dunn said. “We were kind of living on the edge the whole game. It’s a weird game. It’s a big win for our team, but just a weird game.”
Alcoa hosts McMinn Central in another non-district game 5:30 p.m. Friday.