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In what will go down as one of the greatest comebacks in Rockwood baseball history, Jake Witter’s squad erased a 10-7 deficit by scoring six runs in their final at bat to defeat the Grace Christian Rams 13-10 Thursday night in the District 3-A Championship Game played at Grace.
Thursday’s win was extra sweet considering it was the Rams that knocked off the Tigers in last year’s District 3-A title game as well as the Region 2-A title game.
“I’m just happy for these kids,” Tiger head coach Jake Witter said following the game. “We’ve taken it on the chin from these guys the last couple of years, but we’ve continued to work hard year after year. Tonight we just kept plugging along and came up with some big hits at the end.”
Rockwood entered the seventh inning trailing 10-7 and were at the bottom of their order. Witter, however, didn’t tell his squad to take pitches and look for walks. He told them to be the aggressors and make something happen.
“I told our 7, 8 and 9 guys leading off the inning to be aggressive,” he said. “I told them that we’re a hitting team and look to hit the baseball. That’s what they did.”
Rockwood’s rally started with a different kind of hit as a pitch hit Jordan Breazeale then Matt Cofer beat out an infield single to bring the tying run to the plate.
At that point, the Tigers starting ripping everything in sight. Christian Domon blasted a two-run double off the fence in right field to make the score 10-9 then Hunter Grant tripled off the fence in left-center to tie the game at 10.
After an out, Tavin Napier hit a screaming line drive single to give the Tigers the lead, and that was followed by Hayden Freels crushing a 1-1 fastball well over the right field fence and into a white SUV as the Tigers suddenly had a 13-10 lead.
Rockwood then turned to an unlikely hero as junior reliever Tyler McGill finished off the Rams. Grace had scored 37 runs in their first two games against Rockwood in 2013 and had eight on the board through three innings, but McGill allowed just two runs over the final four innings, including a scoreless seventh inning to pick up the victory.
“I just went out and did what I’ve been taught,” McGill said of slowing the vaunted Ram offense. “I just wanted to throw strikes and stay positive. That seventh inning was one of the craziest things I’ve seen, but after that I wanted to finish it.
“This win means more to us than anything. It feels great to bring the district championship back home to Rockwood.”
“He’s our best reliever,” Witter said of the sidearm McGill. “He doesn’t throw hard and he has a funny arm slot, but he doesn’t try to strike people out. He looks to throw strikes and let his defense make plays. He did that tonight and we made plays behind him.”
Thursday’s game started in a shootout as the Rams led 4-1 after one inning of play then Napier hit a grand slam for the Tigers in the second inning to make the score 5-4. Grace, however, scored four runs in the third inning and one more in the fourth to make the score 9-5.
Rockwood’s offense died after Napier’s slam in the second inning, and the Tigers failed to score in their next three at bats. Rockwood, however, started making contact again in the sixth inning as Freels and Jared Breazeale drove in Grant and Riley Clem to make the score 9-7.
Grace would get one of those runs back in the bottom of the sixth inning and were three outs away from a district title, but nine Tigers batted and six runs scored before the Rams could record that third out.
Grant (3-5, 1 3B, 1 RBI, 3 runs), Napier (2-5, 1 GS, 5 RBIs, 3 runs) and Freels (2-4, 1 HR, 3 RBIs, 1 run) all had multiple hits for Rockwood in the win.
Rockwood now turns its attention to a Monday match-up with Oakdale in the opening round of the Region 2-A Tournament. The Tigers beat the Eagles 18-4 earlier this season, but Coach Witter says his team won’t suffer an emotional letdown or be overlooking their opponent on Monday.
“Our goal all year has been to make it to Murfreesboro (state tournament) so our guys will be focused,” Witter said. “This is a great goal to achieve along the way, but it’s not the end of the road for us.”
Rockwood enters Monday’s contest with a 22-7 record and they’re red hot of late, winning 10 straight and 15 of their last 16.
Oakdale is 11-11 overall, but they are also peaking at the right time. The Eagles have won seven of their last nine with both losses coming to District 4-A champion Oneida by one run.