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Pretty much any kid that has ever played baseball has probably dreamed at one point of hitting a game-winning grand slam home run with two outs on a 3-2 pitch.
Rockwood’s Tavin Napier lived that dream Wednesday evening as the Tiger slugger crushed a full count offering over the fence in right-center in the bottom of the sixth inning for what proved to be the decisive blow in Rockwood’s 10-7 victory over Grace Christian in the Region 2-A Championship Game.
“I was just looking to take deep breaths and stay focused like my coaches have taught me to do,” Napier said of his approach to what would be his second home run of the game. “It was a 3-2 pitch so I knew I had to protect, but he grooved one and I kept my hands back, put my foot down and went with it. I wasn’t trying to hit a homer, I was just trying to hit a line drive, but it went out.”
“That was a great at bat,” Tiger head coach Jake Witter said following the game. “The pitch before he took a 2-2 pitch that was just inches off the plate and that gave him a fastball pitch. I don’t think he was trying to hit a home run. He did what he was supposed to do and went the other way with it.”
Napier’s blast capped what would be the Tigers second amazing comeback over the Rams in less than a week. Last Thursday, Rockwood scored six runs in the top of the seventh inning to pick up a 13-10 victory in the District 3-A title game. Wednesday, the Tigers trailed 5-0 entering their half of the fourth inning, but Witter says his squad never panicked.
“I told them to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” he said. “We’d been hitting it hard, but right at them. We’ve been a team that has scored a lot of runs this year so we didn’t need to change. I told them it would take more than five to beat us.”
Grace Christian got four of those five runs with two outs in the top of the fourth inning, but Rockwood wasn’t fazed.
Napier opened the bottom of the fourth inning with a solo shot to left that was followed by singles from Hayden Freels and Hunter Robbins before a Jordan Breazeale RBI ground out made the score 5-2.
Grace used a solo shot in the top of the fifth inning to make the score 6-2, but the Tigers answered again with three runs in the bottom of the frame. Christian Domon doubled to start then inning before a pair of errors allowed Hunter Grant and Riley Clem to reach safely with Domon crossing the plate.
Freels later drove in a run with a ground out, but one of the most exciting plays in baseball came next, as Clem tried to steal home. Clem would be thrown out on the play, but a balk occurred as the Tigers pulled to within 6-5.
Rockwood stayed hot in the bottom of the sixth. A one-out walk to Jordan Breazeale followed by a bloop single from Matt Cofer got things going. Domon then tied the game with an RBI single and that was followed by an infield single from Grant that loaded the bases.
It appeared the Rams might get out of the jam when Clem ground into a 6-2 force play at home, but Napier spoiled those plans when he sent a bomb over the wall.
Grace did try to rally in the seventh inning as they scored one run and had the tying run at the plate when the final out was recorded.
Three Tigers pitchers, Nathan Briley, Jay Tilley and Tyler McGill, combined to knock off the Rams. Briley started and pitched well for 3 2/3 innings before the Rams used four straight hits and one walk with two outs to put four of their runs on the board. Tilley (1 1/3 IP, 2 hits) came on in relief then McGill (2 IP, 2 hits, 1 BB) finished the job. McGill picked up the win.
“They all did what we needed them to do,” Witter said. “They had one big inning, but didn’t score more than one in any other inning. That’s what we need.”
Grant (2-4, 1 2B, 2 runs), Napier (2-4, 2 HRs, 5 RBIs, 2 runs), Robbins (2-3) and Domon (2-3, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 runs) all had multiple hits for Rockwood in the win.
Perhaps more important with the region title is what winning the title means on Friday, as the Tigers will host Region 1-A runner-up Unaka while Grace Christian travels to Region 1-A champion North Greene.
“It’s big anytime you can beat a team like Grace three times in a year, but it’s huge that we don’t have to go somewhere Friday,” Witter said. “No matter where we play, we still have to be ready, but you always want to be at home.”
“We’ll enjoy it tonight, but tomorrow it’s back to business,” Napier added. “We’ve got to keep doing things right and be fundamentally sound. The teams that got the farthest this time of year stay focused and do things right.”