Gators’ last hope cut down on play at plate

Published 1:00 am Sunday, April 27, 2014

Vicksburg High’s Josh Daffron scoots back to first base on a pickoff throw during Saturday’s playoff game against Saltillo. (Ernest Bowker/The Vicksburg Post)

Vicksburg High’s Josh Daffron scoots back to first base on a pickoff throw during Saturday’s playoff game against Saltillo. (Ernest Bowker/The Vicksburg Post)

A million things swirled through a few dozen brains when Marc Grace’s base hit reached the outfield grass.

Strategies. Situations. Tendencies. Raw emotions.

All of it centered on the arm of Saltillo left fielder Alex Hill, and the baseball he fired toward home plate. As it homed in on the glove of catcher Reed Burcham like a heat-seeking missile, the thoughts all coalesced into two realities.

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Saltillo was victorious, and heading to the next round of the Class 5A playoffs.

Vicksburg was defeated, and heading home.

Hill’s throw beat Vicksburg runner Eric Green to the plate by 10 feet and preserved a wild 6-5 win for Saltillo in Game 3 of a Class 5A play-in round series at Bazinsky Field.

Saltillo (15-15) advanced to face Germantown in a first-round series beginning Thursday.

“I feel like we gave it all we had and left it on the field. A few plays here and there, and the outcome is a little different,” said Vicksburg senior Michael Rohrer, who went 1-for-4 with a run scored. “It’s just the game of baseball. You learn from it. It was great playing with these guys all of these years.”

Josh Daffron went 2-for-3 with a double and two runs scored for Vicksburg, Josh Sterling had two hits and Grace drove in a pair of runs.

Jekori Reed, who missed the first two games with a wrist injury, returned to pitch five solid innings but left with a no-decision.

Saturday’s game featured three lead changes or ties in the last three innings, as well as a slew of odd bounces and twists.

Vicksburg (12-18) jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, gave up three unearned runs in the third, then tied it in the bottom of the third on an RBI single by Lee Middleton.

In the sixth inning, Grace knocked in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly to put the Gators ahead 4-3.

Saltillo rallied in the top of the seventh, though. After Rohrer made a diving, over-the-shoulder catch in shallow center, Saltillo got two straight singles to tie the game with two outs. The second was by Hill and brought in the tying run.

Things got even wackier when the game went to extra innings.

With two outs and a runner on first, Saltillo’s Hunter Harlow hit a slow grounder straight up the middle. Daffron, playing shortstop, positioned himself on the second base bag to scoop it up, but the ball hit the base and caromed away to keep the inning alive.

Connor Wade followed with a base hit to right field to bring in the tying run, and Saltillo added another on a wild pitch to go up 6-4.

“That’s just baseball. Baseball is a funny game,” Vicksburg coach Ryan Grey said. “One bad hop can be the outcome of the game, and it kind of was. We were fortunate in the eighth to have a chance on a tricky hop their second baseman couldn’t handle that gave us life.”

Even after all of that, the most dramatic part of the game was yet to come.

A bobbled grounder, a two-out hit by Sterling, and a balk put Gator runners at second and third with Grace at the plate. He ripped a single into left field, and Chris Prentiss scored easily to cut it to 6-5.

As Hill came up throwing, Green — who had been subbed in as a courtesy runner for the catcher Sterling — rounded third. Grey never hesitated in sending Green, figuring a perfect throw was needed to throw him out.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Hill unleashed.

The laser beam zeroed in on Burcham, who was standing at the edge of the home plate circle on the third base line. It got there about three steps before Green did, and the Vicksburg runner ran straight into the tag for the final out of the game and the season.

“I had told him, crack of the bat, ball gets into the outfield, we’re scoring,” Grey said. “Three games and that might have been the first ball (Hill) has fielded clean. He’s had trouble. He came up, fielded it clean, did everything perfect and made a perfect strike to the plate. That’s what it took. If the throw is up the line three feet, or low or high, we may score right there and then we have a chance to win it.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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