(The following is part one in a three part series chronicling the 2005 Allen County-Scottsville/Warren East 4th Regional Tournament baseball game. Look for parts two and three to follow.)
An abundance of thoughts rattled around in Derrick Harwood’s head as the bottom of the seventh got underway: memories of the clanging barbells and the guttural utterances during fall workouts; the incessant pounding of running shoes up and down a cold January Oliver Street; and most hauntingly, the possibility of the best team in Allen County-Scottsville baseball history going home early from the 4th Regional tournament; a tournament that was not only by rights his team’s to win, but the only goal he and his baseball class accepted to be considered. Falling short of that would wipe out the stellar 22-4 record of 2005 and send pitching ace Travis Adams into graduation empty handed.
Winning the Little League state championship years earlier and all the individual success along the way was special. But every building block was laid carefully for the advancement of the varsity program and the lofty goal of a regional crown, something the baseball Patriots had not achieved since 1982.
The slugging Harwood and his fellow baseball Juniors were a “baseball class”. He, catcher Luka Oliphant, outfielder/pitcher Brian Jones, pitcher Joel Steele and infielder/pitcher Ryne Towe excelled at other youth sports, but come high school time all attentions turned to their number one passion.
In 1994, Allen County-Scottsville had an outstanding “football class”. In 1996, AC-S had a “basketball class” that went to the elite eight of the state tournament. But in 2005, this was a clear cut “baseball class”. Harwood, Oliphant and Adams were earning letters number four; Steele and Jones number three. (In 2006, Harwood and Oliphant would join only two other Patriots as 5 year lettermen.) Mix in speedy Andy Caldwell and the lefty batting stroke of John Roberts and this was “The Year” for the Patriots.
The last baseball win over the Warren East Raiders had come in 2002. And an early season loss at Raider Field not only was one of the few stains on the Patriot record, it clearly identified them as a nemesis; a thorn in the side of a veteran Patriot team.
“Every team, good or bad, has that one team they struggle with or just can’t seem to beat,” says Adam. “Warren East was that team for us. Every time we played them it was a battle.”
In the opening game of the 2005 region, on a stifling Memorial Day, the battle continued. The 14th district loser Raiders carried a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the final frame over the 15th District Champion Patriots.
As Patriot head coach Kerry Harwood jogged down to his third base box, the web of baseball strategy entangled his mind; should he have bunted more, started more runners, chosen a different lineup? He noticed the sporadic fan already gathering belongings preparing for an exit.
Losing to a better team is one thing, letting sweet opportunity turn sour is another. It’s the creator of sleepless nights. Expectations were this was a three act play for Allen County-Scottsville, with the curtains closing on a Wednesday night championship. Instead, the act appeared to be canned before the show could really get underway; great expectations folded into a crumpled, unpleasantly memorable Memorial Day.
But the scorecard held a glimmer of hope. With the amazing math of the divisible-by- three lineup, the Gods of Baseball many times send the meat of the order to the plate late. Such was the case as sluggers Jones, Harwood, and Adams came due in the bottom of the seventh.
Actually, though there is no denying that some kind of existential being surrounds baseball sometimes, the gods had less to do with it than the bottom and top two of the Patriot order that had scratched out a few base runners so 3, 4, and 5 would come due.
“Boys, stick with me; stick with me,” said Adams during the jog to the dugout after the last out in the top of the seventh. “We got this.”
The coaches greeted the players with the normal but truthful and effective cliché’s:
“Get’em over, get’em in.”
“One atta’ time.”
“Don’t press, now, One atta’ time.”
“Make the last out the hardest.”