How sweet is redemption?
Just ask Tim Steflik and Hank McCladdie, who overcame Tommy John surgery and woeful hitting, respectively, to be the Knights' heroes Wednesday against Etowah in Game 3 of the Class AAAA state quarterfinals.
Steflik pitched the game of his life, and McCladdie hit a walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning to give Evans a 7-6 win over the ninth-ranked Eagles and an appearance in its first state semifinals since 1995.
The Knights (23-9) will travel to play No. 1 Lee County (27-3) in the final four, which begins at 4 p.m. Monday.
"You just couldn't be more proud of those guys," Evans coach Ricky Beale said. "They both overcame a lot, Timmy with the injury and Hank after last night's performance."
Steflik pitched the longest outing of his prep career, going six shutout innings before leaving with runners on first and second with no outs in the top of seventh inning. Before Wednesday's start, Steflik's longest outing was three innings against Cross Creek in April 2004, the game that he blew out his elbow.
After surgery and rehab, Steflik had only one start in 2005, and he gave up six runs.
When he left the mound Wednesday, he left to a standing ovation and hugs from all of his teammates. Evans led 6-0.
"That was special," Beale said. "If you know the story about what all that kid went through, then you understood how great that was with the ovation he got.
"We thought if we could get three innings out of him, that would be great."
Then the Knights' worst fears came true.
After a RBI single by Brad Bowen, Etowah loaded the bases and Matt Carter hit a two-out grand slam off Josh Brodhecker to make the score 6-5. Sean Dillard then homered off Zack Baker to tie the game.
"I was pretty upset at the time," Steflik said. "I thought I could go a couple more innings. But Coach Beale has been around the game for longer than I have and our bullpen has been excellent all season.
"But for a second, I thought my high school career was over."
Ryan Pressley was hit by a pitch from Etowah ace Nick DeSilvio, who entered in the bottom of the seventh, to lead off the bottom of the ninth for Evans. Matt Stark came in to pinch run and advanced with a sacrifice bunt by Kevin Millward.
McCladdie, who struck out four times and stranded five runners Tuesday, collected his third RBI single of the game, scoring Stark from second.
"Coach told me last night that I'd have a chance to win the game," McCladdie said. "He turned out to be right."
Reach Jonathan Heeter at 868-1222, ext. 116 or firstname.lastname@example.org.