That was the case Tuesday at home against Class 1A, Area 14 rival Collinsville. The Panthers held a one-run lead heading into the bottom of the sixth inning, but the Tigers scratched and clawed two runs across against starting pitcher Josh Gogus when they needed them the most.
Maxwell drove in the winning run on a walk-off single to center to score Kaleb Clark, lifting the No. 6 Tigers to a 2-1 victory that clinched the Area 14 championship.
Clark led off the bottom of the seventh by reaching on an error at short for the Tigers (20-9, 7-0). Austin McCullough also reached on an error at short to give Cedar Bluff runners at the corners for Maxwell, who delivered the clutch hit to score the game-winning run.
“The first two at-bats, he threw me curve balls and I was out in front of them,” Maxwell said. “He threw me two straight fastballs (in the final at-bat). I missed the first one, then I tried to bunt and missed it. I had to do something to redeem myself on that. He threw me another fastball and I drove it up the middle.”
Tiger junior pitcher Curtis Abernathy tied the game at a run apiece in the sixth with a RBI-single to right off Gogus to score senior Lance Estes. Estes reached earlier in the inning on a single to center with one out.
Abernathy also out-dueled Gogus on the mound. He went the distance, allowing just a run on four hits with no walks and eight strikeouts for his eighth victory of the season.
“Curtis does a great job every time he goes out there,” Cedar Bluff coach Taylor Talbot said. “He was ahead of guys all day. He threw the breaking ball for a strike. We didn’t have to throw many change-ups. He just commanded the strike zone and did a heck of a job.”
Abernathy said he was “just trying to give my team a chance to win.”
“Coming in against a competitor like Collinsville, you always have to show up,” Abernathy said. “We knew they weren’t going to roll over for us. We had to fight for it. That’s what happens in an area like ours. You have to fight every game.”
And the reward for fighting to an unblemished area record is a first-round playoff series for the Tigers.
“It’s important to host,” Talbot said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We knew these guys had to have at least one win to get in (the playoffs). Their backs are against the wall, and that makes for a good series. That’s what we want, because it’s a playoff-type series.”
Collinsville (11-10, 5-2) took a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth. Jesse Chandler doubled to right to score Tray Reed, who reached earlier in the inning on a single to center.
Both Chandler and Reed finished the game going 1 for 3. Leadoff batter Nathan Coker went 2 for 3 with a double for the Panthers.
Gogus made that lead stand until the sixth. He finished as the tough-luck loser, giving up two runs off six hits with three strikeouts.
“Josh did pretty well,” Collinsville coach Riley Edwards said. “We missed some 0-2 count spots, but he trusted his defense. Cedar Bluff put it in play. We made some plays behind him, and some we didn’t.
“Anytime you play somebody who’s as fundamentally sound as Cedar Bluff, you’ve got to play fundamentally sound also. I felt like we made mistakes with the small things. If we could put a game together and make corrections with the little things, we’ve got a very solid team. Cedar Bluff just put together a real good ball game.”
Tiger senior leadoff hitter Rihied Harris led Cedar Bluff at the plate by going 2 for 3. Estes and Clark both went 1 for 2. Abernathy and Maxwell were both 1 for 3.
The two teams conclude their series on Thursday at Collinsville with a doubleheader beginning at 4:30 p.m.