Sun Sports Editor
High school athletics are supposed to be fun – a brief reprieve from the every day struggles of being a teenager.
But there was nothing fun about the final innings of Greeneville’s baseball game at Cumberland Gap Tuesday night.
In fact, what transpired was downright scary.
Junior pitcher Zack Finchum had been masterful on the mound for the Devils, allowing just one unearned run through five innings of work.
But the mood quickly changed in the bottom of the sixth, to the horror of everyone in the ball park.
The first batter Finchum faced in the frame hit a grounder back to the pitcher’s mound. Finchum went to field the ball, but unbeknownst to him, the bat had broken on the play and the barrel of it was propelled directly at Finchum.
It struck him in the face.
It deeply lacerated Finchum’s neck and broke his jaw in eight places.
Third baseman D.J. Ball was closest to Finchum when the accident happened.
“When I first walked up to him, it was scary,” Ball said. “My first thought was, ‘What in the world just happened?’.”
“How in the world does a two-piece bat fly off and hit somebody in the face?”
Finchum’s breathing was restricted from the profuse bleeding. Greeneville head coach Jeremy Shepherd ran from the dugout and immediately tried to stop the bleeding.
The coach and the athletic trainer on duty rolled Finchum over to get the blood out of his mouth. Paramedics arrived in about five minutes, according to the coach.
Finchum was taken to the nearest hospital in Middlesboro, Kentucky. There he was told that the hospital could not properly treat him, so he was flown to Knoxville later Tuesday night.
He underwent surgery Wednesday, and Shepherd said everything went well and that Finchum could go home as early as today.
Meanwhile, the Greeneville baseball team was back on the field at the same time, hosting Gate City. The team debated playing the game, but decided to do it in honor of their fallen teammate.
Wednesday’s starting pitcher, freshman Lincoln Bowman, said that the incident was in his mind as he prepared to take the field, but once he stepped between the lines he just wanted to go out and win the game for Finchum.
"I was nervous today before I got to the field, but when I got here everything kind of cleared out," Bowman said. "You know, that mentality kicked in and my adrenaline started going, so everything was natural and I didn't really think about it."
Matt Barham, another pitcher for the Devils, said the incident will stick in the back of his mind, but that it's something he will have to deal with when he takes the mound.
"It's going to be in your head after seeing something like that, seeing that bad of a tragedy happen to a fellow friend," Barham said. "It's tough."
"You just have to go out there and pitch your game. I mean, it's a one in a million chance that it happens."
In fact, Shepherd said he had never seen an aluminum bat break in such a manner – right at the handle. The coach said he had seen pieces a couple of inches long come off, but never the entire barrel.
After Finchum went down Tuesday night, Cumberland Gap scored five runs over the final two innings to claim a 6-5 victory over the distraught Devils.
Greeneville came back Wednesday and defeated Gate City 10-1.
Shepherd said his players will have to continue to step up in such a way the remainder of the season.
"We count on Zack every day," the coach said. "He was one of my leaders."
"It will definitely have a big effect on us. We have to have somebody step up and take his spot. I don't know if there is anybody that can, but we hope there is. We’re going to miss him, that's for sure."