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When it comes to rivalries, it’s hard to top the one that occurs at least twice every year when the Harriman Blue Devils and Rockwood Tigers meet up on the baseball diamond.
The past 10 years have been incredibly competitive as counting last Wednesday’s 8-1 victory by Andy Adcox’s Blue Devils, the Devils and Tigers have met 41 times with Harriman holding a slim 21-20 advantage. The total score of those games has also been incredibly close as Harriman has outscored Rockwood by just six runs, 239-233.
Those 41 games have produced a ton of memorable moments and great games, but one game stands out, as on Wednesday, May 19, 2004 the Tigers and Devils met with the Region 2-A championship on the line.
The Devils and Tigers had already met five times that year with Harriman sweeping the regular season series on their way to the District 4-A regular season title, but Rockwood bounced back in the district tournament, taking two of three from the Devils.
The sixth meeting would be perhaps the best game ever played in Roane County, as seven innings proved insufficient to determine a winner. Ten innings wouldn’t be enough either as it wasn’t until the bottom of the 11th inning that Rockwood’s Matt Goddard scored on an error to give the Tigers a 3-2 victory.
“That’s the best game I’ve ever been in as a player or coach. What made it special is how hard both teams played. Both teams played their guts out,” Rockwood head coach David Lane said following the marathon contest.
The game featured great pitching and defense throughout.
Rockwood starter Robert Gilmore went eight innings for the Tigers, allowing two runs on three hits and one walk. He had six strikeouts.
Harriman’s Jeff Hampton was also a workhorse. Hampton tossed nine innings, allowing seven hits and four walks (three intentional) to go along with five strikeouts.
Dan Chandler eventually picked up the victory for the Tigers in relief as he allowed only one hit and one walk in three innings of work.
Five of Rockwood’s seven hits against Hampton came in the first three innings and the most damage came in the third inning as RBI doubles from Chandler and E.T. McCreary gave the Tigers a 2-0 lead.
Rockwood held that lead until the seventh inning, but Harriman rallied in their final at bat to force extra innings.
Brett Grizzard and Billy Ledbetter opened the inning with back-to-back hits. Grizzard would score when a pitch hit Sam Cummings then Harriman tied the game at 2-2 when Matt Dishman put down a suicide squeeze bunt that scored Ledbetter.
Extra innings was full of drama as both teams made game-saving catches on defense.
In the top of the eighth inning, Rockwood’s Brian Reed made a diving catch near the center field fence that saved two runs.
Chris Beeson also made a diving catch in the ninth inning for Rockwood, while a fully-extended Billy Ledbetter made a Sports Center worthy catch for Harriman in the 11th inning.
A game featuring so many great plays finally ended on two errors.
Goddard reached safely with single in the bottom of the 11th inning. Goddard then went all the way home on a bizarre turn of events.
Goddard stole second and the throw got away on the play as Goddard scampered toward third. Harriman had a shot to throw out Goddard at third, but the ball also got away and that allowed the Tiger 3B to race home with the game-winning run.
The dramatic win helped set the stage for the Tigers on their way to the TSSAA Class A State Tournament in Memphis. Rockwood beat University School of Johnson City in the Class A Sectional then the Tigers beat Friendship Christian School in the opening round of the state tournament.
The Tigers were eventually beaten by University School of Jackson to end their season.
The May 19, 2004 loss turned out to be one of two losses that week for the Blue Devils. Harriman would lose two days later at Unaka, 4-2, to end their season.
Harriman, however, returned most of their squad the following season and used the final two losses of 2004 as a springboard to the greatest season in Blue Devil history. Harriman went 31-6-1 in 2005 and made it all the way to the TSSAA Final Four in Memphis.
Harriman’s two losses in the state tournament came to eventual champion University School of Jackson, who was later stripped of the title and was forced to vacate the victories over the Blue Devils.