Grand slam propels Tennessee

A closer look at the 8-4 win by Southeast Region champion Goodlettsville, Tennessee, over Great Lakes Region champion Bowling Green, Kentucky, Thursday at Lamade Stadium:

PLAY OF THE GAME: Zach McWilliams’ grand slam. It would not be Tennessee if it did not showcase its resiliency and make a comeback. As it has done all Series, Tennessee fought back and overcame a two-run deficit. Kentucky led 4-2 in the fourth inning, but McWilliams changed all that when he launched a mammoth grand slam deep into the night and into the bushes beyond the center-field wall. McWilliams homered for the third time at the Series and Tennessee never trailed again, winning its third game in three days and reaching its second U.S. championship since 2012.

TENNESSEE PLAYERS OF THE GAME: Ryan Oden and R.J. Moore. Many thought Tennessee was thin on pitching after playing for a fourth straight day. Oden and Moore proved them wrong, delivering clutch performances. They scattered eight hits and combined for 11 strikeouts. Oden earned the win with four solid innings and six strikeouts. He also went 1 for 1 with a double and two RBIs. Moore, only 11, was magnificent under pressure. A day after hitting a go-ahead three-run home run, Moore dazzled in his pitching debut, throwing two scoreless innings and striking out five.

KENTUCKY PLAYER OF THE GAME: Spencer Newman. Playing at the Series for a second straight year, Newman flirted with history and left a big mark on the Series. Newman went 3 for 3 with a double, RBI and two runs. He finished with 12 hits, falling just two shy of the Series record. Newman had multiple hits in all four games and went 12 for 15, hitting .800.

HOME RUNS: McWilliams has hit some mammoth home runs this summer, but none bigger than the grand slam he hit in the fourth inning to put Tennessee up, 6-4. McWilliams made Kentucky pay for intentionally walking Tyler Jones in front of him, crushing the 2-0 pitch nearly halfway up the hill behind the Lamade center-field fence.

FLASHING LEATHER: McWilliams took away a potential Patrick Forbes RBI single in the second inning. McWilliams made a nice stop in the hole and his throw to first was just as strong as he kept Tate Hanks from scoring from second. Catcher Tanner Jones made a huge play to close out the fourth inning, throwing out Devin Obee trying to steal second. Jones made a perfect throw to catch one of the tournament’s fastest runners and stifle a potential rally after Kentucky had brought the tying run to the plate. Obee exacted revenge on Tennessee an inning later, making a spectacular catch on what looked like would be a Carson Rucker two-out RBI hit. Moving to cover second, Obee stopped, reached back and snared the rocket and kept Kentucky in the game.

BIG INNING: Tennessee fourth. Kentucky had just scored twice in the third inning and taken a 4-2 lead. For the third time in four Series wins, the Southeast champion came roaring back and scored five runs to take a 7-4 lead. Tennessee batted around in the seventh with Oden adding a sacrifice fly. The first five runners reached base in the fourth with Easton Dillard sparking the rally when he was hit by a pitch. Tanner Jones followed with a single, Tyler Jones was intentionally walked and McWilliams made that strategy backfire three pitches later.

WHAT THE ADULTS SAY: “They are great kids. We’ve been together for almost 10 weeks and we’re so appreciative for how much they have improved and how much they have listened to us,” Kentucky manager Rick Kelley said. “It’s a special group and we’ve made some great memories.”

WHAT THE KIDS SAY: “Coach told me, ‘what do you think about that? They think you’re an easy out,'” McWilliams said about what manager Joey Hale told him as Jones was intentionally walked. “I was kind of surprised. I didn’t think they would walk me.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Tennessee reaches Saturday’s U.S. championship and has a chance to exact its only summer loss when it faces Mid-Atlantic champion Endwell, New York. New York defeated Tennessee, 3-1, last Monday but the Southeast champions have won three straight since. This is the second time since 2012 that Goodlettsville has played in the championship after beating California four years ago. Kentucky ends a fantastic season as the third best team in the country. This is the second straight time Bowling Green has played at the Series and it finished among the top four each time. This is the highest finish for a Kentucky team since 2002.