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The West Johnston High varsity baseball team stood upon the cusp of not only winning the Golden Leaf Invitational championship in its first appearance but also accomplishing the precedent-setting feat of not allowing a run in three games.
With two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, the 3-A Wildcats owned a 3-0 advantage against 4-A Jamestown Ragsdale.
Then it all unraveled. The shutout string ended at 19 2/3 innings and Ragsdale (11-11) rallied to a 5-4 victory in eight innings.
The Tigers, who posted a 2-1 tournament mark, walked off when winning pitcher Derek Martinez singled home Trey Jackson with two outs in the bottom of the eighth.
But back to the pivotal bottom of the sixth — when Wildcats relief pitcher Chase Moore was attempting to escape a bases-loaded jam after taking over for starter Tim Heflin.
The Tigers loaded the bases on Ryan Lipke’s single, a walk and Luis Salgado’s single. With two outs, Jackson singled in the first Ragsdale run. Suddenly, the score was tied when the West Johnston left fielder couldn’t come up with a difficult catch of a fly ball off the bat of sophomore Win Scott. With Luke Pritchett at the plate, Jackson scrambled home with the go-ahead run on a wild pitch.
“That was fun,” Scott commented. “It was a tough play (in left field) and, when he didn’t make it, I knew we had a chance.”
The Wildcats, down to their last out, drew even at 4-4 in the top of the seventh. Back-to-back walks from Martinez led to Britt Ortiz’s RBI single — when the center fielder couldn’t execute a difficult catch attempt.
Ragsdale squandered a chance to end it in the bottom of the seventh and, in the extra inning, Martinez encountered little difficulty in the top of the eighth.
“(Head) coach (Donnie Maness) told us it would have been nice to have won it in the seventh,” Scott noted, “but he asked us: ‘When was the last time you walked off?’ Everybody got on the same page and we knew it was going to happen. When (Jackson) got to third, I knew it was going to happen — I could just feel it.”
Jackson singled against left-hander Kyle Denning, the third West Johnston pitcher. Scott, whose catch near the left-field wall robbed the Tigers’ Donnie Hill of an extra-base hit in the seventh, beat out a bunt. With two outs and the left-handed-hitting Martinez at the plate, Jackson boldly stole third base and trotted home to a celebration on Martinez’s hit through the right side.
“That felt good!” understated Scott, who understood West Johnston needed only to win to clinch the championship in the 18-team field.
West Johnson forged its 3-0 margin with two runs in the second and one in the fourth.
“It was not one play,” emphasized disappointed West Johnston head coach Josh Plisko. “We had chances to open the game up. But we struck out with runners in scoring position and needed to get bunts down. We are a little frustrated but baseball is that way — you can’t relax.”
Plisko was just relieved the game did not end the season for his Tigers.
“It’s good that it happens now,” he contended, “and it lets us know, as we go forward, that we are not stuck with it for eight or nine months. We have the luxury of playing the next day.
“This is something we’ve got to overcome. We have to learn to do the little things so the ball doesn’t bounce the wrong way.”
Summarized the Tigers’ Scott: “We played really well. This was something new for the juniors and sophomores, and we were excited. We are happy to take two out of three.”
West Johnston’s Plisko was left to lament: “We should have won this tournament.”
But as the Tigers’ Maness contended: “We had 800 chances to win this game.”
Ragsdale got it done on chance No. 801.