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Oliver Springs baseball coach Tony Kegley isn’t afraid to play a hunch and Oliver Springs senior Justin Nation was just happy to have the opportunity to make the most of that hunch during Thursday’s District 4-A Tournament opener against Sunbright.
With the score tied at 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Bobcats had the winning run on third base with one out when Kegley called on his senior third baseman to make a play. Nation had missed most of the season with a fractured foot and hadn’t batted all season until he stepped to the plate with the winning run 90 feet away.
Nation swung and missed badly at the first two pitches, but he drilled a hard ground ball to second base on pitch number three. The ball ate-up the Tiger second baseman and brought home Keith Roberts with the game-winning run in Oliver Springs’ 3-2 victory.
“He hadn’t had an at bat all year, but I had a gut feeling and I coach by my gut,” Kegley said.
“I was ready,” Nation said. “I know God was looking out for me. He let me come back and play. I give Him all the honor and glory.”
Thursday’s tournament opener played out nothing like the regular season, where Oliver Springs bombed the Tigers by scores of 13-2 and 13-4.
“I told our guys about the 2009 team that beat Sunbright something like 18-0 just two weeks before the tournament and then they nearly run-ruled us in the tourney to end our season,” Kegley said. “You’ve got to tip your hat to Sunbright. They made some plays tonight and took advantage of some mistakes we made.
“But our guys kept battling. Guys like our seniors, Nation, (Dylan) Seiber and (Tanner) Turpin never spit the bit and that’s why they’ll do well in life.”
Oliver Springs scored first Thursday with a run in the bottom of the first inning as Elijah White walked and scored on a single from Zach Spoon.
However, the Bobcats also missed out on some early chances to put the game away as they left the bases loaded in each of the first two innings.
Sunbright pulled even in the top of the second inning then the next three innings would see both teams put runners in scoring position, but fail to score.
The fifth inning would be especially frustrating for the Bobcats as they had a runner thrown out at the plate on a ground ball then another runner was tagged out at home after a wild pitch.
Things really got uncomfortable for the Bobcats in the sixth inning when Sunbright turned a pair of hits into a 2-1 lead.
Oliver Springs answered in the bottom of the frame as the Bobcats used aggressive base running to tie the score.
Austin Seiber was on second with one out when Jeremiah Johnson faked a bunt that brought in the Tigers third baseman. Seiber was stealing on the play and no one covered the bag as the throw went into left field allowing Seiber to scamper home with the tying run.
“(Assistant coach) Eddie Kelley made that call,” Kegley said. “We’ve coached a lot of games together and he’s thinking along with me. He does a lot of great things for us and I’m blessed to have him as a coach and friend.”
The seventh inning was wild. Sunbright put its first two runners on base to start the inning, but the Bobcats used a line drive double play to get out of the inning.
Oliver Springs’ half of the inning started with Turpin reaching on a single and stealing his way to third, but he was caught in a rundown after a failed suicide squeeze attempt.
Roberts, however, reached on a dropped third strike and soon stole two bases and that set the stage for Nation’s most memorable trip to the plate this season.
“I just put it in play,” Roberts said. “But I had a good feeling when I hit it that we were going to win.
Up next for the Bobcats is a Monday match-up against District 4-A regular season champion Oneida in the double elimination portion of the tournament.
“Survive and advance is what it’s all about now,” Kegley said. “We’ve got to clean up our swings and we’ve got to clean up some things defensively, but I’m sure glad to be playing Monday.”