Mealer one-hitter propels Rockets to Region 5A title game
Ethan Mealer did not allow a hit for five innings before the sophomore hurler’s no-hit bid was spoiled by a sixth inning leadoff slow roller in Forrest’s 10-0 six inning, run-rule win over Jo Byrns Monday night at Chapel Hill in a Region 5A Tournament semifinal.
“I never expected to get the run-rule,” Forrest coach Bart Joyce said. “We didn’t know a whole lot about Jo Byrns coming in, but obviously they were playing in the region semifinal so they had to be good.”
Mealer struck out 12, walked one and hit two Red Devil batters as the Rockets advanced to the region title game on Wednesday at 5 p.m. when they host Eagleville, who completed the District 9A sweep with a 6-0 shutout win at East Robertson in the other Region 5A semifinal.
“It feels pretty good honestly,” Mealer said. “I was just trying to keep the ball low and throw strikes because they were a competitive team.”
Forrest (22-11-1) and Eagleville (19-16) have met five times this season with the Rockets holding a 4-1 advantage, including a 6-3 win in last week’s district tournament title game.
It will be the fifth consecutive appearance for the Rockets in the region title contest where they have a 4-1 record in that time span.
Forrest is 5-3 in the region championship games since the turn of the century with three state tournament berths in 2006, 2014, and 2016.
The Rockets also clinched a Class A sectional game berth on Friday with Wednesday’s winner hosting and the loser travelling to the winner of the Region 6A title game between Loretto and Summertown.
“You want to play on that Wednesday and you want to play at home on Friday, so we will go get em on Wednesday,” Joyce said.
Jaylen Smith swung the hot bat for the Rockets versus Jo Byrns, going a perfect 4-for-4 at the plate with 2RBI, two runs scored, two stolen bases and the walk off base knock in the bottom of the sixth inning.
“I saw on Sports Center yesterday when it was ‘(Derek) Jeter Day’ and he said you have to be mentally strong to do good and I kept running that through my mind and got hits every time,” Smith said. “I always like ending the game early and it felt really good because this could have been our seniors’ last game, but now we are moving on.”
Mealer started out in dominating fashion, striking out the side in the first three innings, including seven consecutive whiffs.
Jo Byrns starting pitcher Nick Henderson kept the Rockets off balance over the first three innings, allowing just three Forrest baserunners.
After Mealer set down the Red Devils scoreless again in the top of the fourth inning, Forrest broke through in the home half of the frame with five runs.
Dylan Eady drove home the first run and Smith made it 2-0 with an RBI single before senior Jacob Jones smashed a three-run homer deep over the left field fence to essentially put the game away.
There was no scoring in the fifth inning and in the top of the sixth, Red Devil right fielder Eric Herring topped a slow roller down the third base line and beat it out for Jo Byrns’ only hit of the contest.
“There was not much you can do about that hit,” Joyce said. “It was a tough break.”
An error by Mealer on a pickoff attempt sent Herring to second base and after Mealer struck out Fulton Earheart, Smith came up with the defensive play of the game when he grabbed a hot shot at shortstop and gunned down Herring trying to take third base.
“Defensively, when the ball was hit we made plays,” Joyce said. “That was big play by Jaylen there on short picking off that guy going to third, so we capitalized on some of their mistakes and it worked out for us.”
Smith also recorded the third out of the inning on another grounder and dig at first base by Dustin Brashear to keep the shutout intact.
Smith doubled leading off the home half of the inning and stole third base before Jones walked and stole second.
Ryan Moses walked in a pinch hit role to load the bases and Jo Byrns brought in Tyler Thompson to pitch and he proceeded to hit Luke Cunningham to make it 6-0.
Jonathan Lykins followed with a two-run single and a balk on Thompson scored another run to give Forrest a 9-0 lead.
Thompson got out number two on a fly ball, walked pinch hitter Drew Daughrity, and beaned Eady to re-load the bases before Smith delivered the game clincher with a line-drive single to center field.
Brashear, Lykins, Mealer, Eady and Jones all had one hit apiece for the Rockets.
Jo Byrns 000 000-0 1 2
Forrest 000 505-10 9 2
Jo Byrns: Eric Herring 1-for-3
BB: Zach Henegar
FC: Micah Hagan
HBP: Hagan 2
Team LOB: 4
E: Blake Shadrick, Nick Henderson
LP: Nick Henderson
Forrest: Jaylen Smith 4-for-4, Dustin Brashear 1-for-4, Jonathan Lykins 1-for-3, Ethan Mealer 1-for-3, Dylan Eady 1-for-3, Jacob Jones 1-for-2
RBI: Jones 3, Smith 2, Lykins 2, Eady, Luke Cunningham
BB: Ryan Moses, Cunningham, Drew Daughrity, Jones
RS: Lykins 2, Smith 2, Jones 2, JT Ferguson, Cunningham, Lucas Welch, Eady
ROE: Jarvis Lyttle, Ferguson
HBP: Lykins, Eady, Cunningham
SB: Smith 2
Team LOB: 5
E: Mealer, Blaize Sweeney
WP: Ethan Mealer (6IP, 1H, 0R, 0ER, 12K, 1BB)