Pisgah baseball recognizes seniors with win

May 3—It's that time of year again. As spring sports begin to wrap up, teams begin to say farewell to their seniors.

On Tuesday, Pisgah baseball sent their seniors out with one last win on their home field, knocking off Smoky Mountain with a come-from-behind 4-3 victory.

"We didn't play our best baseball, especially early we didn't look very good. But we made up our minds that we were going to play, and we looked better," Pisgah coach Harold Shepard said. "It's our destiny that we're going to play close and fight and scrap. But it's just preparing us for tougher stuff down the road. We've been in tight ones, we know how to win it and we know how to survive. We're getting ready for something."

Senior night is always a special night, as players compete in their final regular season game on their home field. For some, it may be the last time they ever get to play on their home field.

"It was very special," senior Ty Upton said. "It's something about this field. I think it's the prettiest in the conference, but I might be biased. You've got all the support from your teammates and the crowd, and you can't get that everywhere. I'm very thankful for that, and I'm very thankful to get to play."

The game had a little added special touch for two of the seniors. Eli Ashe and Eli Rigsby have played together for most of their lives. Rigsby caught Ashe for most of their careers, but in recent seasons, Rigsby has spent more time elsewhere in the infield.

Tuesday night, he found his way back behind the plate.

"Coach Shepard came to me and said 'Hey, you're going to catch tomorrow,'" Rigsby said. "I got the biggest smile on my face because I was very happy and very happy to catch Eli, too. We've been doing this for as long as we've been playing and it was special to get to do it one last time."

Ashe threw in a game the Friday before senior night — just four days prior. Because of this, the coaching staff had to limit his playing time in that game to ensure he could pitch on his senior night.

"I know Coach Shepard did a lot of the maneuvering to get me on the mound and I really appreciate that," Ashe said. "Throwing and catching with Rigs — it's been a long time we've been doing that. We've been doing that since we were 8, so it was really special to be able to do that in front of our parents and everyone else here."

Senior Walker Fox also played his final game in Canton on Tuesday night. The senior has been the rock for the team throughout his time with Pisgah.

"I'm going to miss him a lot because he's developed into a leader," Shepard said of Fox. "We were worried when they came in as freshmen who the leader would be out of the group. Walker has developed into a leader. They follow him. They listen to him, and they respect his point of view and how he does things. Kids like that you miss. It's not often that you get leaders. Sometimes you've got to build them, but we didn't have to build him. It just developed."

Smoky strikes first

In the first inning, Smoky Mountain grabbed the lead. After a two-out single, the runner attempted to steal second. The throw found its way into centerfield. From there, the runner realized they had a chance and pushed for third.

The throw back into third sailed into the visiting dugout, awarding the runner home plate and the opening run.

"We sort of were like 'What just happened?'" Shepard said.

But it wasn't entirely unexpected for Pisgah. Shepard said they knew that Smoky would come out swinging.

"Smoky Mountain is scrappy," he said. "Their record is deceiving. I know what Coach (Jeremy) Ellenburg is going to bring to the table each time. He's a good coach and his players play hard for him."

In the top of the second inning, Smoky Mountain looked primed to add to their lead. With one out and runners at second and third, the Mustangs had every chance to grow their advantage.

That's when the senior duo of Walker Fox and Rigsby teamed up for an inning-ending double play.

A line drive into centerfield found Fox's glove. From there, the senior put the ball on a line to the catcher.

"He's been the man," Shepard said of Fox. "He continues to be the man. He's working hard. He's coming up when we need him to come up. Walker is getting ready for bigger and better things, and he's still staying grounded with us little folk."

The throw made it to Rigsby, who snagged it just before the Mustangs runner plowed through the senior.

As the dust cloud settled, Rigsby held up his glove, showing the umpire he held on to the ball to complete the double play.

"Rigsby held on to it. That speaks wonders of Rigsby's toughness. A younger version of Rigsby might not have held on to it," Shepard said. "He's been that guy. He's a catcher first and a third baseman second or third. I've messed him around because I felt like he was a little more versatile."

Bears bounce back

In the bottom of the fourth, Pisgah finally got the game back on level footing. After a walk for freshman Isaiah Mintz, Fox reached on an error and Rigsby reached on a single.

An infield fly and line out gave Pisgah two outs with the bases loaded. Sophomore Braden Surrett drew the bases-loaded walk to tie the game up.

To kick off the fifth inning, Upton took a pitch off the elbow to reach first base.

"Ty came up big. He got hit by a pitch and got on base," Shepard said. "Ty is a great kid. He's the first one to jump anyone on the team that needs help. I'm going to miss him a lot. Not baseball-wise in particular, but because of the kind of person he is and what he brings to the team. He's a special kid, and he's going to do a good job. Whatever he does, he's going to do a good job."

For Upton, despite not getting to see much playing time this season, it was an important year for him. Grabbing a win on senior night was the perfect bow for the senior.

"It's a special feeling that you can't get anywhere else. To get somewhat of a decisive end to your career can mean a lot," Upton said. "It really is a brotherhood for me. It draws me in. You can be very athletic and make plays, but the brotherhood bonds you together. You can move up and move on, but that brotherhood is still there."

Upton's walk was followed by two traditional walks, loading the bases with no outs for the second straight inning.

Fox stepped to the plate driving a single into centerfield to score two runs for the Bears.

"I'm just soaking it all in, man," Fox said. "These past four years have been life-changing for me. If it wasn't for this coaching staff and all my friends out here, who knows where I'd be? Who could tell what I'd be doing after high school if I didn't have these four years?"

A wild pitch scored one more run for the Bears before the inning wrapped up. While the Bears scored four runs, Shepard said he wished they could've grabbed more.

"We were looking for more," Shepard said. "We practice it. I don't know what happens. We just choke down a little bit and try too hard. It's definitely not a lack of ability. They press too hard."

In the top of the sixth, Smoky pushed one more across the board before Ashe ran up against his pitch limit and was forced to exit the game.

"Ashe is always going to give me everything he's got and that's all I can ask of him," Shepard said.

Ultimately, Smoky wouldn't push any more runs across and Ashe would be credited with the win.

"It's great to win anywhere, but especially here," the senior said. "It possibly being the last game here, I'm excited to get the win."

Now, the team looks ahead to one last regular season game at Smoky Mountain and then the playoffs. But Tuesday night's senior night battle will surely stay in the memories of the four who played their final game in Canton.

"It's truly a blessing to be able to play here," Rigsby said. "Personally, I think it's the nicest field in the conference. I wouldn't trade it for the world. It's been the best four years I could ask for. I'm really happy to go out on a win here."